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Florida Parking Lot Killing Raises Questions About Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law
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Florida Parking Lot Killing Raises Questions About Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law

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CLEARWATER, FLORIDA – August 14, 2018

Michael Drejka, who shot Markeis McGlockton in a Florida parking lot, and yet was not arrested or charged due to Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law has been charged with manslaughter.

Drejka shot and killed Markeis McGlockton on July 19, during a dispute over a handicapped parking space. Based on surveillance video footage and reports of the encounter, McGlockton and his 5-year-old son were in the Circle A Food Store in Clearwater, Florida, on July 19 when Drejka approached their car, which was parked in a handicap space. McGlockton’s partner, Britany Jacobs, was in the car with the couple’s kids. Drejka and Jacobs began arguing over whether McGlockton and Jacobs were allowed to park there.

McGlockton then came out of the convenience store and pushed Drejka to the ground. As McGlockton began to back away, Drejka pulled out a gun and shot McGlockton in the chest. McGlockton then ran into the convenience store. He was taken to the hospital, but later pronounced dead.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s suggested that the Florida “stand your ground” law properly shielded Drejka from charges, but State Attorney Bernie McCabe announced on Monday that it was ultimately up to prosecutors to make the final decision and file charges.

Drejka's case caused a wave of controversy in Florida and beyond. This story was all over national media. McGlockton’s wife and friends gave compelling interviews. Gun control supporters used this tragedy to push their agenda. The Florida “stand your ground” law has been declared “controversial” and there have been calls for its revision. Many have also noted a racial element in the story, as Drejka was white and McGlockton was black. The press immediately found research that shows that Americans are generally more likely to see black people as a threat — and that may, in situations like these, make it more likely for someone to feel the need to “defend” themselves. They also pointed out that one of the last times Florida’s “stand your ground” law came up in a major public debate — when George Zimmerman, who’s white and Hispanic, followed and then shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. For many, the shooting — and Zimmerman’s eventual acquittal — was an example of the law giving deference to a white man in the shooting of a black boy. Yet few are taling about what is really worth talking about: the specific circumstances of the Drejka case.

The sheriff explained that while McGlockton’s back-off after the shove gave him “pause,” ultimately Drejka was rightfully worried that he would be struck again. At a press conference, Sheriff Gualtieri emphasized that this wasn’t a small push: “This wasn’t a shove, this wasn’t just a tap. He slammed him to the ground.”

Drejka had a legal concealed carry permit, according to the sheriff.

Drejka also reportedly has a history of confronting people over handicap spaces, allegedly threatening to shoot a trucker in the past over the issue. But the sheriff said that, legally, Drejka’s history isn’t relevant to the July 19 shooting.

Florida’s “stand your ground” statute, in short, gives a person the right 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,” all without a “duty to retreat.”

Under standard self-defense laws, someone who’s facing a dangerous threat must retreat if it’s safe to do so, with use of force only legally available as a last resort — this is what’s called the “duty to retreat.”  By this standard, you can only use deadly force if you cannot safely avoid harm or death by, for example, running away or hiding.

But if a “stand your ground” law is in place, someone can, well, stand his ground, and use lethal force even if he can safely retreat while under imminent threat. There are also “castle doctrine” laws, which remove the duty to retreat in a legally occupied setting, such as your home, office, or car (your “castle”). “Stand your ground” is an expansion of “castle doctrine”: While the latter only removes the duty to retreat in your home, the former removes the duty to retreat everywhere — whether you’re in a grocery store, in a park, or on a street.

These legal concepts go back to 17th-century English common law, in which much of American law still finds its basis. The idea was that the king and his soldiers would keep the peace, while everyone else should step aside and avoid violence whenever possible. Similarly, in America today, we expect people to step aside to avoid civilian violence as much as possible while police provide protection. If you’re in a dangerous situation, you’re expected to retreat if you can, and call on the police to protect you if necessary.

Again, “Stand your ground” captured a lot of media attention after Martin’s death because it was widely believed that it would play a role in Zimmerman’s defense. But the emphasis on the law was severely overstated: During the trial, it was only mentioned in the jury instructions and in passing by the prosecutor. Zimmerman was acquitted under a more typical self-defense argument.

Zimmerman never appeared to have a chance to retreat once he got into a fight with Martin. His injuries and the forensic evidence suggest that he was lying on the ground with Martin on top of him and hitting him as he opened fire. In those last moments, Zimmerman was under serious physical threat and couldn’t retreat, so he was legally allowed to use force under a typical self-defense law. (Of course, there’s an open question of whether Zimmerman could have avoided the entire encounter to begin with by simply not following Martin after a police dispatcher told him not to. But self-defense law is generally about whether you’re under threat at the moment you use force, not what happened beforehand.)

This is a key point under “stand your ground” laws: They are only relevant if you can safely retreat from an attack. If you can’t safely retreat, a more standard self-defense law will protect your use of force. If you can safely retreat, a “stand your ground” law is needed to justify use of force — unless you’re in your home, where a “castle doctrine” law may apply.

In the case of McGlockton and Drejka, the sheriff has said that Drejka “told deputies that he had to shoot to defend himself. Those are the facts and that’s the law.” He added, “No matter how you slice it or dice it, that was a violent push to the ground.” He claimed that the law, whether he agrees with it or not, puts a high burden of evidence on the state to show that Drejka was not able to use a “stand your ground” defense.

McGlockton's partner assured the judge and jury that McGlockton was “defending me and his children,” but the video evidence says otherwise. His partner claims that all she wants is “justice.” And that is all society wants as well – justice. Justice without any political implication and speculation on the McGlockton’s family's tragedy. We encourage colleagues to talk about a particular case, its circumstances and the legitimacy of the decisions made, and not to draw attention to racial, political or any other problems for the sake of creating cheap popularity and fame.

Author: USA Really