TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Dream Defenders holding a sit-in at the Florida Capitol believe they won another victory Monday, but their overall goal for a special legislative session remained elusive.
The protesters continued their vigil at the Capitol for the seventh straight day. Many of them have been sleeping on the marble floor every night.
Gov. Rick Scott directed his secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice to meet with the group on Monday.
They peppered Wansley Walters with questions about what she was doing to improve Florida's juvenile justice system.
Dream Defender Ciara Taylor said it looked as though the department had done little in the past legislative session to make reforms in juvenile justice.
"We were looking for a repeal of zero-tolerance policy. We were looking for a way to get our children out of adult prisons. We were looking for a way to protect them in detention facilities and you were silent the entire legislative session on those bills."
Walters insisted her department was working to reform the juvenile justice system. She said she supports an expansion of the use of civil citations for youths across Florida.
Under civil citation, a youth who commits a misdemeanor can avoid arrest and get intervention services. The idea is to prevent them from ending up deeper in the criminal justice system.
But when Walters admitted some police departments don't like civil citations because it takes away some of their power to decide how to handle situations, Ciara Taylor jumped in.
"Are you trying to protect the police officers or are you trying to protect the children who are our future?"
Walters replied, "You have to know something. I have a longstanding record in protecting and fighting for children. So I want you to know right up front that everything that I and this department have been engaged in has been about these children and protecting these children."
Walters told the Dream Defenders she supports their goal of ending the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, in which zero-tolerance school policies send students -- many of them young black men -- into the criminal justice system.
She said Florida is, in fact, reducing the number of youths in the juvenile justice system.
"We have seen a reduction in overall juvenile arrests by almost a quarter. We are seeing a reduction by 67 percent of low and moderate risk children being sent away from their homes, out of their schools, to residential facilities by ensuring that we get community services in place."
The Dream Defenders welcomed Walters' visit, but said it fell short.
Taylor said the time for talk was over.
"We currently find ourselves in a state of emergency. There is a growing fear among Black and Brown young people in Florida that their lives are of little value to the state, and the Governor's unwillingness to do anything about it is disappointing to us all."
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott reiterated his decision not to call a special legislative session.
The Capitol protesters want state lawmakers to convene in a special session to consider a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act.
The proposal includes changes or a repeal of Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law.
The idea to review Stand Your Ground laws got a boost this weekend from former Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He said he supported such a review in Florida, as well as his home state of Arizona.
State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said McCain's support gives the Dream Defenders' Capitol vigil a boost.
"Now we're not just a voice in the wilderness calling for changes to Stand Your Ground. We now have advocates like Sen. John McCain and others who are calling, I mean, 100 cities around the country, over 100 cities calling for that. That's tremendous. We haven't seen that type of support on issues in a very, very long time."
Dream Defender Phillip Agnew said members of the group are resolute in their plan, will continue to apply pressure and will not be discouraged by Gov. Scott's comments against a special session.
"I already heard what he said, but governors, politicians always have room to backtrack."