Commentary: Why is the NRA angry at the sheriff for NOT charging the Stand Your Ground killer in Florida?
By Ian Reifowitz
It’s a very interesting question, which we’ll get to below. What’s not in question is that, whatever the absurd Florida law known as “Stand Your Ground” says, Michael Drejka is morally responsible for the death of an unarmed man, Markeis McGlockton. Our own Jessica Sutherland covered the incident just after it happened, and her post includes a video that makes the details clear.
In summary, Drejka, an armed non-police officer, decided to confront McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs—who was with their kids—over her car being parked in a handicapped spot. When her boyfriend, Mr. McGlockton, who had been inside a convenience store, exited and came back toward the car, he confronted Drejka and shoved him to the ground. Drejka drew his firearm and McGlockton began to back away. Yet without warning or even more than a brief pause of about four seconds, Drejka shot and killed McGlockton, who is black. Drejka is white and apparently has a history of acting like he thinks he’s a cop (remind you of any other Floridians who’ve killed unarmed black males?).
The killing took place in Pinellas County, and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has decided not to file charges against Drejka because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The state can, however, still file charges down the road. Here’s the sheriff’s explanation, such as it is:
McGlockton “didn’t turn around and run away real fast. And the guy didn’t do anything and say, 'Hey, man, we’re good,' or something. He didn’t do any of that. So it cuts towards this guy’s belief, in his mind, that he’s going to be harmed again, and he had to shoot to defend himself. And those are the facts. And that’s the law,” Gualtieri said.
“The law on 'stand your ground' is clear,” Gualtieri continued. “The Florida Legislature has created a standard, that is a largely subjective standard. This is not an objective ‘what I would do, what you would do, what the public would do, what somebody else would do?’ This is more of a subjective standard, and the person’s subjective determination of the circumstance they were in.”
This so-called explanation is absurd. The idea that McGlockton should have to run away in order to not be killed makes no sense. Gualtieri argued that “(Drejka) felt after being slammed to the ground that the next thing was that he was going to be further attacked by McGlockton.” However, there’s no evidence in the video that such further attacks were in the offing. McGlockton made no move toward Drejka after the initial shove.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson—who is running for re-election against the man who signed Stand Your Ground into law, Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott—has written a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling on the Department of Justice to begin looking into this case, which could, in theory, lead to federal civil rights charges. Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, along with Florida Reps. Charlie Crist and Rep. Alcee Hastings, all signed on to the letter as well. Let’s just say I’ll believe Sessions will act on this when I see it.
Benjamin Crump, the well-known civil rights lawyer representing the victim’s family, offered praise to the five Democratic lawmakers: “I applaud them for showing responsible leadership,” he said, and added something that should be obvious to any fair-minded person: "We should not be encouraging people to try to take the law into their own hands, start a confrontation and then kill an unarmed black man.” In a separate interview, Crump went further:
“This was a cold-blooded murder,” Crump told POLITICO. “This is not self defense. And communities of color, the black community, are very emotional about this issue with these stand-your-ground cases.”
What might be surprising is that the NRA (and other conservatives) have gone on the record criticizing Sheriff Gualtieri’s interpretation of the law. David French at the National Review argued that “this shooting should sicken America’s armed citizens,“ and called for Drejka to stand trial. Marion Hammer, the NRA’s veteran lobbyist in Florida and one of the people most responsible for the enactment of the Stand Your Ground law, didn’t want to get into specifics about this case, but nevertheless said the sheriff was wrong that the law creates a “subjective standard.” Florida State Sen. Dennis Baxley—he crafted the law as a member of the state House—made similar comments, as did other pro-gun Florida legislators.
Now, before you start wondering whether Lucifer is going to start needing a winter jacket, let’s talk about why these right-wingers are expressing such sentiments. Without painting all conservatives with a broad brush, let’s focus on the motives of the nakedly political organization bankrolled by the gun manufacturing industry: the NRA. Their statements here stem not from a sudden realization that the Stand Your Ground law is a bad one, but rather from their fear that not prosecuting Drejka will build more support for changing or maybe even repealing that odious law.
In fact, Sheriff Gualtieri, who is a backer of the Stand Your Ground law, said the legislature might need to change it: “There’s room to tweak it, to tighten it up in some areas,” he said. “Tweaking it so that it is less ambiguous, it’s clearer, and could be applied a little bit more easily than what we’re having to go through here.” One particularly problematic part of the law stems from a 2017 revision that puts the burden on the state to prove that a defendant claiming Stand Your Ground as a defense did not act within that law’s provisions.
On the matter of race, the sheriff denied that racial bias was a factor in his decision not to bring charges, citing the charges he filed against white shooters in two other recent cases—cases in which the state ultimately decided not to indict because of the Stand Your Ground defense.
Whatever Gualtieri’s motives, the overall effect of the law is clear, according to Crump, who called it “a license to kill black people and people of color and not be held accountable.” A study published in the peer-reveiwed Social Science Quarterlyfound: “Enforcement of SYG laws appears biased against people of color in general and women specifically in the home. Policy implications are especially stark because these findings contradict recent research conducted for the U.S. Senate.”
Another study, published in the peer-reviewed Social Science & Medicine, likewise found: “SYG legislation in Florida has a quantifiable racial bias that reveals a leniency in convictions if the victim is non-White, which provides evidence towards unequal treatment under the law.” Furthermore, a number of studies have also shown that, after controlling for other factors, SYG laws lead to increased homicide rates in states that pass them, versus states that do not.
Beyond the quantifiable bias, the killing of Markeis McGlockton raises the significant possibility that Florida’s law is leading people who are armed to initiate and escalate situations that previously would have ended without serious violence. This law, which the NRA appears desperate to protect, is leading people like Michael Drejka to think they can get away with murder.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared at the Daily Kos, which has a policy stating that "(s)ite content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified."