Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law has spared a white man from criminal charges after he shot and killed a black father in front of his young children over a parking spot.
The gunman, Michael Drejka, 47, shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, 28, after McGlockton parked in a disabled spot in the parking lot of a Circle K convenience store and gas station in Clearwater, Florida, on July 19. The Pinellas County sheriff, however, declined to press charges against Drejka because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows anyone who fears for their safety or life to use lethal force.
The incident began when McGlockton and his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, 25, who are black, pulled into a disabled spot in the Circle K parking lot with a car full of their young children. McGlockton got out of the vehicle with his 5-year-old son and went into the store, while Jacobs stayed behind in the idling car with the couple’s two younger children, an infant and a 3-year-old.
Their use of the disabled spot without a permit caught Drejka’s attention. Drejka, who’s white, is known for picking fights over improper use of disabled spots and other parking-related faux pas, according to local media. He began circling Jacobs’ vehicle trying to look for the “disabled” decal on the car, and a “verbal altercation” ensued, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a press conference Friday.
“He wanted somebody to be angry at,” a teary Jacobs told Good Morning America on Monday. “He just wanted someone to fight him. He was picking a fight. I’m just sitting, waiting for my family to come back to the car.”
Surveillance video from outside the store shows Drejka talking to Jacobs in the vehicle and attracting the attention of other Circle A patrons. McGlockton runs out of the store, places himself between his girlfriend and Drejka, and shoves him to the ground. Drejka then takes his gun out and shoots McGlockton, who runs back into the store clutching his chest.
McGlockton was transported to hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County said in the press conference.
But Gualtieri explained that his department would not pursue charges against Drejka because he believes his actions were protected under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
According to Gualtieri, Drejka feared “he was going to be further attacked by McGlockton,” he said as he played the surveillance footage. “He felt the next thing was that he was going to be slammed again.”
“We have to recognize that if Markeis McGlockton hadn’t walked up to him the way he did and slammed him on the ground, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion,” Gualtieri added.
Under Stand Your Ground, someone who feels they’re at risk of bodily harm or death can legally use lethal force, rather than retreat from the perceived threat. Critics of the the law, however, argue the language enables racism and racial profiling. Protesters gathered at the Circle K convenience store over the weekend to demand justice for McGlockton.
“I just want justice,” Jacobs said on “Good Morning America.” ”I need something to be done.”
Stand Your Ground became the object of national scrutiny when George Zimmerman, a white male, successfully used the law to avoid criminal charges after fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in 2012. Trayvon’s death was subsequently the impetus for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In their most recent legislative session, Florida lawmakers tweaked the Stand Your Ground law to shift the burden of proof in “Stand Your Ground” cases from defense attorneys to prosecutors. Before that change, defense attorneys had to prove that their clients were justified in using deadly force. Now, the burden is on prosecutors to prove that they were not justified.
“Does this law create a situation potentially where people shoot first and ask questions later?” Gualtieri asked. “You can have that debate. I don’t make the law; we enforce the law. And I’m going to enforce it the way it’s written.”
Gualtieri said he was referring the case to the state attorney’s office, who will decide whether to pursue charges against Drejka.
Cover image: Screenshot via surveillance footage provided by Circle K owner/VOX