By: Kristen Calzadilla
On Friday, August 23, a trial that brought Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law back into the national spotlight came to a close with a surprise—a conviction. Michael Drejka was found guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton.1 The case initially made headlines because it almost was not a case at all—the sheriff of Pinellas County, Bob Gualtieri, announced in a press conference that he believed the shooting fell “within the bookends” of Stand Your Ground and justified the use of force as protected by the statute.2 Following pressure from activists and community members, State Attorney Bernie McCabe charged Drejka with manslaughter.3 While the arrest and charge itself was cause for celebration for those wanting justice for the murder of unarmed black man at the hands of a white man, a Stand Your Ground case meant justice would be hard fought.
Passed by the Florida legislature in 2005, Florida statute 776.012(2) says that “[a] person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another…”4 The statute famously grants immunity from arrest and prosecution to anyone whose actions fall within the statute’s meaning.5 The statute has long been a heated debate in the extremes—argued as either a necessary legal protection for those acting in self-defense,6 or an excuse for trigger-happy (and often times racist) vigilantes to get away with murder.7 The law became infamous during the 2013 George Zimmerman trial, who was found not guilty for the death of unarmed African American teen Trayvon Martin by invoking the statute,8 sparking a national outcry.9 Despite the national attention and heated debate, the Florida legislature recently refused to hold a special session to change the law.10
Furthermore, statistics have shown an increase in homicides in Florida since the passage of the law.11 There has been a twenty-four percent increase in homicide overall, with a seventy-five percent increase in justifiable homicide rates, as well as a twenty-two percent increase in unjustifiable homicide rates in Florida.12 However, following the law’s passage, the overall rate of homicides overall have overwhelmingly been from unjustifiable homicides.13 This law is inherently making the state of Florida more violent.
Drejka was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury of his peers, but were it up to the Pinellas County Sheriff and his reading of the laws of the state of Florida, Drejka would have been immune from liability. The family of Markeis McGlockton now has the justice they hoped for, but this case and the national outcry surrounding the law needs to be a lesson for policy and change. It’s time for the Florida legislator to repeal the law and create new self-defense laws that don’t justify further violence in communities.
- See Hannah Knowles, A White Florida Man Cited “Stand Your Ground” for Shooting a Black Man. A Jury Found Him Guilty,Washington Post (Aug. 25, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/08/24/white-florida-man-cited-stand-your-ground-shooting-black-man-jury-found-him-guilty/.
- See Kathryn Varn and Dan Sullivan, The Clearwater Parking Lot Shooting: Everything You Need to Know About the Case, Tampa Bay Times (Aug. 17, 2019), https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2019/08/17/the-clearwater-parking-lot-shooting-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-case/(Hereinafter Parking Lot Shooting).
- Stat. § 776.012(2).
- Donna Coker, “Stand Your Ground” in Context: Race, Gender, and Politcs, 68 Miami L. Rev. 943, 944 (2014).
- See John Lott, Perspective: In Defense of Stand Your Ground Laws, Chicago Tribune (Oct. 28, 2013), https://race-and-social-justice-review.law.miami.edu/tragedy-reminds-lgbtq-community-continues-discriminated-call-completely-fdas-ban-homosexual-blood-donations/.
- See David Love, “Stand Your Ground” Laws Encourage Racially Charged Violence(Aug. 3, 2019), https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/03/opinions/stand-your-ground-law-racial-violence-opinion-love/index.html.
- See Gregory Castillo, A Teen Was Shot by a Watchman 5 Years Ago. And the Trayvon Martin Case Became a Cause, Miami Herald (Feb. 28, 2017),https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article135413214.html.
- Varn and Sullivan, supra.
- See The Inherent Danger of Stand Your Ground Laws, Everytown for Gun Safety (Feb. 2019), https://everytownresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/FACT-SHEET-StandYourGround-020819C.pdf.
- See Lisa Rapaport, Murders Surge in Decade After “Stand Your Ground” Law, Reuters (Aug. 14, 2017) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-homicides-standyourground/murders-surge-in-florida-in-decade-after-stand-your-ground-law-idUSKCN1AU1QL.