Florida's Stand Your Ground Law Is Back in the Spotlight After Parking-Dispute Shooting

On August 6, several hundred people attended a rally at the St. John Primitive Baptist Church in Clearwater, Florida, for Markeis McGlockton, the 28-year-old who was killed last month after a parking dispute outside a convenience store by 47-year-old Michael Drejka.

The local county sheriff declined to file charges against Drejka, citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

During the rally, Rev. Al Sharpton and several Florida Democratic candidates for governor condemned the law, which first came to public attention after the 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

The “Stand Your Ground [law] should be repealed. I believe Stand Your Ground has no place in civilized society,” said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is running as a Democratic candidate for governor. “Beyond Stand Your Ground, we have to be willing to take on the [National Rifle Association (NRA)]. These are folks who have no interest in preserving any of our lives, but just selling more guns.”

Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, first passed in 2005, an individual has the right to use or threaten “to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” According to the law, an individual has no obligation to retreat from the perceived threat.

On July 19, McGlockton’s longtime girlfriend, 25-year-old Britney Jacobs, parked in a handicapped parking spot outside the store while McGlockton and their 5-year-old son went into the store to grab snacks. During that time, Drejka confronted Jacobs over parking in the spot. Video footage shows McGlockton came out of the store and pushed Drejka to the ground while he was yelling at Jacobs. Drejka, who had a concealed carry permit, immediately pulled out a handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest. McGlockton stumbled back into the store and later died from the injury.

The Tampa chapter of Black Lives Matter and several other local organizations joined together for a rally outside the church where several local activists led protest chants and gave speeches to a crowd throughout the afternoon.

“This is the way people are able to come out, express their frustration, anger and voice that they want justice and to live in a community where no one is allowed to act like a vigilante without accountability,” said Ruth Beltran, a Black Lives Matter-Tampa activist who organized the rally. “Markeis is missed and the community and family are very heartbroken. They do ask for and demand justice, and want people to join in their demands to make sure we put pressure on the state attorney to take action and press charges in this case.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri intends to refer the case to the state attorney’s office. State Attorney Bernie McCabe’s office declined to comment.

Drejka has been reported to confront previous customers at the same convenience store over the parking space. Richard Kelly, who frequents the store often, told the Tampa Bay Times that a couple months ago, Drejka threatened to shoot him for parking in the space.

“People don’t commit lynchings anymore, but they kill under Stand Your Ground. Ordinary people don’t have plantations or slaves, but we have the prison system. Until we’re able to destroy all of that, we won’t have a measure of freedom inside our community,” said Connie Burton, a community activist at the rally. “I have a responsibility as an older sister to make sure we don’t pass this down to the next generation.”

The controversial law came under intense national scrutiny in February 26, 2012, when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, killed 17-year-old Martin. Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges under Stand Your Ground, and his acquittal, along with Martin’s murder, would help ignite the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.

“Many people think they have to defend Stand Your Ground laws because they implicate the NRA or because these laws have something to do with gun laws. They do not,” said civil rights attorney Natalie Jackson. She explained that laws simply extend the common law’s “reasonable person standard” in such a way as to encompass anyone — from an armed would-be cop following a teenager to a homicidal person enraged about being pushed. Stand Your Ground laws, as interpreted by the public and police officers, Jackson adds, “are so arbitrary and ridiculous that they should be repealed.”

Florida Republicans in favor of Stand Your Ground responded to the initial criticism against it by passing an expansion of the law in June 2017. The new law, SB 128, shifts the burden of proof for defendants seeking immunity under the law from defense lawyers to prosecutors.

“The NRA is not with us on repealing Stand Your Ground, but even they agree with us, that, in this case, the law was improperly applied,” Jackson told Truthout, adding that the law allows police departments to circumvent the authority of courts and judges. She worked with attorney Benjamin Crump to represent the Martin family. Now Crump is representing the McGlockton family and recently wrote a letter to the Department of Justice asking for the federal agency to intervene in the case.

“Stand Your Ground allows non-people-of-color, white folks, to be able to kill people of color without a second thought. If things occurred with the roles reversed, the white person would be seen as a hero,” said Sadie Dean, a regional field organizer in Tampa for Color of Change and co-chair of the Restorative Justice Coalition. “When the shooter is white and the victim is Black, the phenomenon we see a lot in these cases is victims are turned into the villain or aggressor.”

It’s unclear when the state attorney’s office will make a decision on whether to bring charges against Drejka, but Sheriff Gualtieri continues to hold his position against arresting Drejka, despite the criticism and media attention his decision has warranted.