Some of us still remember the pain and the infuriating national dialogue surrounding the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the black boy who was unlawfully pursued and subsequently killed in his own Sanford, Florida neighborhood by a vigilante for “looking suspicious.” That case elevated Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law (SYG), as George Zimmerman evaded indictment, claiming he killed the unarmed child he chased down in self defense.
Fast forward, and the basis of the law, adopted by 33 other states since 2012, and its real life implications are back in the headlines after Markeis McGlockton was murdered in Clearwater, Florida on July 19. Michael Drejka is a white man who took it upon himself to assault McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, over a mis-marked handicap parking spot. Even with a reported history of racist, violent behavior, he managed to avoid arrest for weeks, claiming he murdered McGlockton in self defense, asserting SYG.
In Florida, very little has changed by way of policy with regard to SYG. Yet, there is hope. Recently, Andrew Gillum clenched the democratic nomination for governor of Florida and one of his strongest campaign promises was that he’d repeal SYG. He recognizes that black and brown people are less safe with SYG on the books.
In the McGlockton case, Drejka wasn’t beaten or even threatened by McGlockton, he was simply pushed away from the car, which contained Jacobs and their two small children. He wasn’t in imminent danger because McGlockton, the one actually defending his family from harm, retreated before Drejka fired his gun, blasting a hole his side causing him to bleed out in front of his babies.
History tells us that it wasn’t fear of harm, but a disregard for black life emboldened by privilege and SYG that fueled Drejka’s decision to take McGlockton’s life. Drejka was eventually arrested on August 13 on the charge of manslaughter because advocates, community members and supporters refused to stop demanding justice. But we must remember that his arrest is just one small win in a longstanding battle for justice for McGlockton’s family and the countless others who have lost loved ones because of SYG’s often racist application. As long as it’s still on the books, black and brown people will not be safe in places like Florida, Alabama, Indiana or Kentucky.
Pinellas County Sheriff, Bob Gualtieri, justified not arresting Drejka by stating there was “no evidence that race was a factor.” However, when it comes to SYG, reports show that race is almost always a factor. As late as 2015, data shows that Florida convictions and the application of SYG have a racial component that seemingly does not benefit black people. The report noted that a suspect is twice as likely to be convicted of a crime if the victim is white, versus if the victim is a person of color.
While standard self-defense laws stipulate that anyone facing a dangerous threat must retreat if it is safe to do so, and that they only use force as a last resort, Florida’s SYG law overrules the duty to retreat. However, SYG is not available to a person who initially provokes the use or threatened use of force against themselves unless (a) the use of force is so great that the person believes themselves to be in imminent danger and the person has exhausted reasonable means to escape danger, or (b) the person withdraws from physical contact, but the assailant continues the use or threatened use of force.
Appropriately, perceiving that Drejka was about to execute unlawful force, McGlockton used non-deadly force against Drejka, which is lawful in Florida, to stop him from possibly attacking his partner and his children. It was Drejka who made the conscious decision to escalate the situation by his use of deadly force. When SYG is used like this, by people with no regard for the humanity of black people, it becomes another tool the state uses to criminalize and kill us.
In the midst of a situation Drejka initiated, he became the judge, jury and executioner and nothing about that is right or just. Since the days of slave patrols, black codes and Jim Crow, this country has used laws to control, criminalize and kill black people without recourse, and SYG is simply another example of that. When applied in cases involving black people, it’s no different than the laws and justification that allowed Darren Wilson to walk free after murdering Mike Brown, that allowed Daniel Pantaleo to choke Eric Garner to death or the attempt by Nouman Raja to obtain an acquittal by murdering Corey Jones.
While steps are in the right direction, we must remember that Drejka’s arrest nor Gillum’s nomination are a conviction or an instant repeal of SYG. Justice may or may not be served, but regardless, Markeis McGlockton is gone and his family will carry that loss forever. It’s imperative that we keep demanding justice for the families of those who have lost loved ones to those hiding behind SYG. Florida, has a chance to set the tone for the rest of the country by repealing SYG. With an election of Andrew Gillum, it will send a message that being black is no longer considered a threat worthy of deadly force, laws like that will always be justification for taking our lives. SYG will finally have a chance of being repealed.