A new generation fights for civil rights in Florida

Fri Aug 23, 2013 1:33pm EDT
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida last year shook the foundations of Phillip Agnew's comfortable life selling erectile dysfunction drugs and anti-depressants.

Outraged at police who cited Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law as a reason not to arrest neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, Agnew felt compelled to make a stand of his own.

The 28-year-old from Miami led the longest sit-in in memory at the Florida Capitol this summer. On Wednesday he will step up to the microphone in Washington to add his voice to those of President Barack Obama, former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and others commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Now a salaried field organizer for the Service Employees International Union, Agnew represents a generation of civil rights activism half a century removed from King's iconic address.

Martin's killing prompted Agnew and many others to question whether equal justice in the United States was still only a dream.

The group he helped start, which calls itself the Dream Defenders, camped for 31 days in the office of Governor Rick Scott to protest Zimmerman's acquittal in July.

"We think the political landscape of America is turning very much in favor of young people now," Agnew told Reuters. "We want people to come together and talk about the future of Florida."

Many people blamed Zimmerman's acquittal on the Stand Your Ground law, under which people in fear of their lives no longer must try to retreat before defending themselves with potentially lethal force.   Continued...

Julian Bond, former NAACP chairman (C), listens as Phillip Agnew, executive director of the Dream Defenders (R), announces an end of a 31-day sit-in at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, in this file photo from August 15, 2013. REUTERS/Bill Cotterel/Files