Like most of us, Michael McGlockton became familiar with Florida’s “stand your ground” law in 2012 when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed outside his father’s home by an armed “neighborhood watchman.”
“For the most part, that’s when I started paying attention to it,” said Michael McGlockton in an interview with The Root. He is the father of Markeis McGlockton, an unarmed African-American man who was shot and killed by a white civilian in Clearwater, Fla., last month.
Trayvon’s killer was not initially charged because of Florida’s “stand your ground” statute, a 2006 law which states that a person who feels threatened does not have to retreat and can use deadly force in self-defense. The controversial law, statistically proven to have a clear racial bias and application, has once more reared its ugly head.
“I knew that once that case was done and over with, in the long run that this was going to happen again,” Michael McGlockton said. “I just didn’t know it would happen to me and my family.”
Who Gets to Defend Against Whom?
On July 19, Markeis McGlockton was inside the Circle A convenience store when 48-year-old Michael Drejka got into an argument with McGlockton’s longtime girlfriend and mother of his three children, Britany Jacobs, over a parking space. When someone came into the store and told the clerk about the altercation, Markeis rushed out and pushed Drejka down, after which Drejka pulled out a weapon and shot him in his chest. The 28-year-old father of three was fatally wounded in front of his children and later died at the hospital.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri did not charge Drejka in Markeis McGlockton’s death. In fact, Drejka was not even arrested, which Michael McGlockton found incomprehensible, especially given Drejka’s history, which includes at least four threatening incidents, where he allegedly brandished his Glock at least twice—something Gualtieri said was “irrelevant” to the McGlockton killing.
“Michael Drejka’s history shows that this guy has a history of pulling out that handgun at will,” says Michael McGlockton. “And this particular time, he just decided on pulling the trigger on my son. So we really, really need to take a look at this Stand Your Ground law and come to the conclusion that this law really needs to be changed, because it doesn’t benefit people of color.”
There was reserved relief on Monday when the Florida State Attorney Bernie McCabe decided to bring manslaughter charges against Drejka. This happened after an investigation, which included video footage that showed the confrontation and shooting, and a sustained outcry from civil rights and activist organizations such as the NAACP, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter and the National Action Network.
“We commend the state’s attorney for indicting this man in the brutal murder of a husband and father, who sought only to protect his family,” said NAACP Chairman and Florida resident Leon W. Russell in a statement. “This law is a shameful tool for vigilantes and cowards.”
Stand Your Ground: Past, Present, Future
Since the Trayvon Martin case, the controversial “stand your ground” law, has actually been amended, but not in the way most opponents would like. Last June, the Republican-led Florida legislature, backed by the NRA, actually strengthened the law, shifting the burden of proof to prosecutors, making it even more difficult to indict killers who claim self-defense.
In fact, only four of the other 21 states with “stand your ground” laws mention burden of proof—Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina—and all place it on defendants.
“‘Stand your ground’ was already inconsistently applied,” said Michele Rayner, a civil rights and defense attorney representing the McGlockton family. “And now it’s even more inconsistently applied because you have attorneys who are in court, and all the defense has to do is make a prima facie case … meaning on its face, stand your ground is applicable. And then the burden shifts to the state.”
Rayner, who has practiced criminal defense in Clearwater for six years, says that in her own practice, she’s seen how black clients are rarely given the option of using “stand your ground”—especially by law enforcement, unlike in Drejka’s case, where he walked as a free man for more than three weeks.
“Most of my clients are typically black and people of color and when they assert any type of ‘stand your ground’ defense, I have never seen the sheriff pause in arresting them,” says Rayner. “Normally, I have this conversation with them at the county jail; they’re not home, they’re not living their lives and doing their daily routine.”
Rayner cites a 2013 study that says when a white person kills a black person and asserts “stand your ground,” they are 281 percent more likely to walk away without any type of consequence, sometimes without even going to trial.
As it relates to the Markeis McGlockton case specifically, Rayner asserts that her client was retreating before he was shot and that the video clearly shows this.
“I think the tape speaks for itself. We’ve all seen the video … and the fact of the matter is that you see Markeis taking steps back; Drekja shoots him. It would be reasonable that [Drekja] would not ever be in fear for his life,” Rayner says. She also observes that the way in which law enforcement reads the statute can be inconstant.
“And so I think that the sheriff got it very wrong,” she continues. “I think that the sheriff didn’t also acknowledge there is an additional portion to ‘stand your ground’ in the state of Florida, which is that if you are the initial aggressor—which is our position that Michael Drejka was when he approached Britney Jacobs’ car, he began to berate her, he began to circle around it, he began to act in a way which makes him the initial aggressor—when you are the initial aggressor, unless you make a way to retreat from what you’re doing, you don’t have the capability or the ability to assert ‘stand your ground.’ I think it’s egregious that the shooter was not arrested. I think that it was egregious that he was able to go home that same day within hours of killing an unarmed black man.”
“Stand your ground” is obviously what many see as a state-mandated license to kill (black people), and which has been actually expanded in Florida since the Trayvon Martin tragedy in 2012. The “castle doctrine,” which asserts that you have the right to defend your home or vehicle, has now spilled into wherever someone may feel “threatened,” even if they start the altercation.
Although Drejka has been arrested, the community continues to rally and will hold a march on Aug. 19 in Clearwater to try to ensure that justice will be served. Only time will tell if this will be another gut punch like the Trayvon Martin verdict.
“There have been calls for repeal, my personal opinion is to repeal it,” says Rayner. “Some other opinions are to amend it, but nonetheless, with regards to this particular law, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it moral. Slavery was legal. Jim Crow was legal. And they weren’t moral and they weren’t right. I understand that people are saying ‘I have the right to protect myself.’ You 100 percent have every right to protect yourself if someone comes into your home. However, is everywhere your castle? Is the parking lot your castle?”