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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Veteran brings thousands of signed petitions to Dream Defenders



  Navy veteran James Williams, who was in the service for 21 years, traveled to the Capital on Tuesday to present the Dream Defenders with thousands of petitions.

 Williams, who is now retired and lives in Brazil, said that when he heard about injustice in two cases -- Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander -- he had to take action.

 "It's not right," said Williams, 65, who was a U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class. "If we don't say anything, it will continue."

 Williams efforts also further demonstrate the impact of social media and reaching a global audience online to tell the story of a movement. He found out about how to launch a petition drive through, and using Facebook, reached supporters from as far away as New Zealand.  

 Williams traveled first to Miami and then to Tallahassee, toting the results of two separate petition drives. He collected 40,000 signatures from all over the world calling for the pardon of Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who was sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot during an argument with her abusive husband.She tried to claim immunity under the state's controversial Stand Your Ground law but was found guilty.The Dream Defenders have also called for her pardon.

He also collected 27,000 signatures in support of Martin and demanding that George Zimmerman be stripped of his gun rights.

The Miami-based Dream Defenders have been camped outside Gov. Rick Scott's office since July 16th in response to the acquittal of Zimmerman in the shooting of 17-year-old Martin. The grassroots group has demanded a special session to repeal Florida's Stand Your Ground law and address other issues including racial profiling and a "school-to-prison" pipeline that results in the criminalization of youth.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he won't call a special session, but the Dream Defenders have been working on Plan B -- trying to get enough votes in the legislature to create a special session. It's considered a longshot though the Florida Secretary of State's office has received at least 32 letters from lawmakers, all Democrats, enough to trigger a poll of all legislators to see whether they'd support a special session on Stand Your Ground.

Watching the young Dream Defenders sitting around couches outside the Governor's office, discussing problems with the juvenile justice system, Williams was clearly impressed. "They're young and focused and they won't take no for an answer.... When I was in school, people of color were downgraded to be less than a human being. These are things you never forget." 

Williams is hopeful that the Dream Defenders will find a way to get his petitions to the governor.

Dream Defenders Executive Director Philip Agnew said Williams' efforts show that "people from all over the country want to see change in Florida and are passionate enough to sign a petition."

While the Dream Defenders is behind the "urgent" pardon of Marissa Alexander, Agnew, who noted  he hasn't yet seen the petitions, said the group hasn't been targeting issues concerning Zimmerman and his gun rights."This has not a thing to do with him (George Zimmerman) right now." 

[Last modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 1:38pm]


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