Tallahassee, FL - While President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney sparred inside Lynn University, outside the student organization the "Dream Defenders" were making their presence felt.
"Dream Defenders is a coalition of black and brown youth working to end social injustice here and across the world," said one of the Dream Defenders members Elijah Armstrong. Armstrong was not at the protest.
With local chapters at both FAMU and FSU, nine Tallahassee students were part of a group coined as the "Dream 15," fifteen students arrested for what they say was a peaceful protest.
"The arrest was horrible. Everyone had their own experience but I think of the officers handled me very rudely," said Lucky Thomas, one of the nine Tallahassee students arrested.
A spokesman for the group said they were carrying out their "Change the Debate" campaign. It's focused on getting the candidates to recognize social injustices, one of which they say is the disproportionate number of young minorities in prison.
When asked if the protest was worth the arrest, Thomas replied a decisive "yes."
The students spent about fourteen hours in police custody before being released. The Tallahassee crew is now back in town.
Boca Raton, FL – As the presidential candidates engaged in their final debate at Lynn University on Monday night, the Dream Defenders marched outside of the site protesting the candidates’ refusal to address issues impacting youth.
The Dream Defenders, a diverse group of students and youth from universities and communities all across Florida dedicated to battling racial and educational injustice, demanded to “change the debate”.
This continued effort is a part of their current “#ChangeTheDebate” campaign, an attempt by the group and allied community organizations seeking answers from the presidential candidates on their strategies to deal with the ongoing crisis of mass youth criminalization.
The flood of over 120 vocal students—made up of citizens, undocumented Americans, queer-identifying individuals, and straight allies—marched down Yamato Road singing “We who believe in freedom cannot rest; we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it’s won.”
The palpable frustration was a response to the eerie lack of discussion on the growing and disturbing trend of mass youth incarceration. Dream Defenders are particularly concerned about how the privatized-prison industry disproportionately affects youth of color.
Statistics show that African-American youth make up only 16% of the nation’s overall juvenile population but account for 45% of juvenile arrests. “There is a war on youth going on right now. Our generation is being deported, incarcerated, and labeled criminals. We need a real debate on the issues that matter to us, not on Big Bird and Binders,” said Phillip Agnew, an organizer with the Dream Defenders.
As the group reached North Military Trail, fifteen later dubbed the “Dream 15” parted to enter the intersection with a banner reading “Education, NOT incarceration!” Police were soon made aware of their presence and began advising them to depart from the intersection.
Shortly after, a warning from Palm Beach County police was made through a loud speaker that if the students did not leave, they would be arrested. The fifteen—compromised of nine females and six males, the majority youth of color—remained sitting in the street with locked arms and an unwavering commitment to song. Police proceeded to arrest each of the youth, to which the singing individuals peacefully complied.
The “Dream 15” was put in zip-ties, their ankles shackled, and taken to the county jail. They were released approximately fourteen hours later, unshaken and determined to continue their work in shedding light on the alarming numbers of youth whose lives are being ruined by the private-prison industry. “We cannot and will not be silenced. Our candidates can no longer ignore the facts,” said Caterina Victoria, one of those arrested.
Explained fellow Dream Defender Ciara Taylor, “Like many Americans, the Dream Defenders are disappointed with the deliberate decision of the candidates to not mention the criminalization of our youth. In a state that boasts the largest number of youth in the United States serving life sentences, we understand how critical it is for the candidates to address this overwhelming problem.”
The Dream Defenders is a group of youth and students committed to replacing jails with schools, ending the illegal war on the undocumented, and dismantling the systems that criminalize our people. We are the daughters and sons of slaves and farm-workers. We are Dreamers and the products of a generation that had a dream. We are 'We Shall Overcome' & 'Si se puede!' We are Phoenix and Selma, the Freedom Rides and the Trail of Dreams, suffrage and solidarity.
To find out more, visit: www.dreamdefenders.org