Angry that a white man who shot and killed a black man in Clearwater has not been arrested, civil rights leaders came to the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. At a press conference, they criticized the Pinellas County sheriff who refused to make an arrest in the case. Briefly, they held a sit-down protest (see video of that here) in Governor Rick Scott’s office, calling on the governor to sign an executive order to repeal the law.
The incident in question involved Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year-old black man shot by Michael Drejka, a 47-year-old white man who started an argument with McGlockton’s family July 19 outside a convenience store because McGlockton had parked in a handicapped spot. McGlockton came out of the store and saw Drejka yelling at his family in the car, and pushed Drejka to the ground. Drejka then pulled a gun and shot McGlockton in the chest.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri did not arrest Drejka, saying he was prevented from doing so by the way the Stand Your Ground law is written. The case has now gone to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s office, which will make the decision on whether to press charges against Drejka.
More than three dozen people, including Britany Jacobs, McGlockton’s girlfriend, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and members of McGlockton family attended what was at times a fiery press conference and rally held at the Bethel Baptist Church in Tallahassee.
“We come here today to echo what the Reverend Al Sharpton said: either arrest this killer, or give up your badge,” attorney Ben Crump said in a pointed message to Gualtieri. “If you’re not going to do your job, then give up the responsibilities to somebody who will do their job to administer due process of the law!”
Crump is representing McGlockton’s girlfriend in the case. It’s a similar role that he served six years ago, when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black youth who was killed in a confrontation in Sanford that first brought the controversial law to the attention of the nation (although assailant George Zimmerman never actually invoked a SYG defense).
Crump referred to those similarities several times in the nearly hour-long press conference, saying that again it was a situation involving a “self-appointed wannabe cop.”
Sharpton was in Clearwater last Sunday, where he presided over a press conference and ceremony where he also criticized Gualtieri. On Monday, the Pinellas sheriff said Sharpton should “go back to New York” and mind his own business.
The sheriff’s comment did not go over very well with those in attendance at Wednesday’s rally.
“Did they tell the killer to mind his own business?” asked Pinellas based attorney Michele Rayner, who is representing the McGlockton family. “What he fails to realize is that this is all of our business. We will not rest until the shooter is arrested, until charges are filed, but most importantly, until Stand Your Ground is repealed.”
McGlockton was killed in the presence of his three children.
“My kids are still asking questions: where’s their father?,” McGlockton’s girlfriend Britany Jacobs said in her brief remarks. “I have to tell them he’s resting right now.”
Both Crump and Rayner promised that they would be soon provide more information about how this was not the first time that Drejka had angrily confronted someone about a handicapped parking space (one case has already been previously reported by Tampa Bay media).
Several Democratic state lawmakers have called for the Florida Legislature to convene a special session to repeal the law, triggering an official state poll of all 160 members of the House and Senate. If two- thirds of the legislators vote to hold a special session, one would be called to order.
So far, the odds don’t look good that it will happen. The Florida Department of State issued a tally from twenty percent of House members who have already weighed in on Tuesday afternoon, with the vote mostly split along party lines – Democrats in support and Republicans opposing the idea. With an overwhelming majority in the House, a special session seems unlikely. A final tally will be announced on Friday.
Gillum is on the ballot right now in the Democratic race for governor. He said the best way to make good on the demand to repeal Stand Your Ground is “to show up with your voter identification card or whatever credential you need and cast your vote consistent with your belief that Stand Your Ground has no place in the state of Florida.”
The governor has said very little about the controversy. A spokesman for Scott said last month after the incident occurred that “if the Legislature wants to make any changes to clarify Florida’s law next legislative session, they can do so.”
After doing their sit-in protest at Scott’s office, the civil rights leaders met with Scott’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Jack Heekin, and asked that the governor personally contact the McGlockton family and meet with the mother of Markeis’ children, Britany Jacobs. They also asked that Scott convene a statewide clergy meeting to discuss Stand Your Ground. They reiterated their request that Scott declare a State of Emergency that would suspend the Stand Your Ground law until legislators can revisit it.
“It was a powerful moment,” said Rev. R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee, who participated in the protest. “We felt that the governor and someone on his staff ought to talk to Markeis’ fiance. The governor should see her pain and her hurt, and I hope he’ll be sensitive to revisiting this law. Moving forward, we need the next Governor to amend this law.”
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