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Debate Over Florida's Stand Your Ground Law Seeping Into This Year's Elections

Joined by her Attorney Ben Crump and others, Brittany Jacobs speaks during a news conference inside a Tallahassee church prior to a march to the capitol Wednesday.
Sascha Cordner

Last month’s killing of a man during a dispute over a parking space has revived the conversation about a repeal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The overall debate surrounding the controversial self defense law is also having an impact on Florida's elections.

Since Markeis McGlockton’s death last month, his girlfriend Brittany Jacobs says her family hasn’t been the same.

“It’s really hard, because at the end of the day, my kids are still asking questions,” she said, during a recent press conference in Tallahassee. “Where is their father? And, you know, I have to keep strong for them, and just tell them, ‘Daddy is just resting right now.’ But, it’s hard.”

McGlockton, a black man was shot by Michael Drejka, a white man, during a dispute over parking in a handicap spot.

While McGlockton was inside a Clearwater convenience store, Jacobs was illegally parked in that handicap spot with her kids. It was then Drejka confronted her about parking there without a permit.

The security video shows McGlockton coming out of the convenience store and pushing Drejka to the ground. That’s when Drejka fired his shots.

“I am still going to stand up and fight for what is right,” Jacobs added. “My man was right. Markeis was right. He was just protecting us. He was a good man and a good father, and he didn’t do nothing wrong, but just try to protect us.”

Drejka claimed he fired in self-defense, and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri decided not to arrest him, citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

But, Jacobs’ attorney Ben Crump says had the roles been reversed, there would have been a different outcome.

“Could you imagine if it was a white woman sitting in her car with her two little children and a black man like Markeis McGlockton came up to that car, some stranger yelling, screaming, and cursing at that white mother and the white father came out to defend his family, and the black strange man shot the white father,” Crump asked. “Does anybody believe the police would not have arrested him on the spot?”

Since the shooting, there have been protests and rallies across the state that has led to a revived discussion over whether to appeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

Tensions rose recently when Reverend Al Sharpton during a Clearwater rally called for Sheriff Gualtieri to arrest Drejka or step down.

“He killed an unarmed black man, who was standing up for his family,” said Sharpton, at the time. “Lock him up or give up your badge!”

“It’s a bunch of rhetoric,” Gualtieri later responded. “I don't pay much attention to it, to tell you the truth. I wasn't there, and I don't really care what Al Sharpton has to say. Go back to New York. Mind your own business.”

Supporters of the McGlockton family and their attorney, Crump have said the video speaks for itself.

But, Gualtieri disagrees, saying facts matter and there were “obscure camera angles.”

As for not making the arrest, he adds he was just following the self defense law that allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened without the duty to retreat. But, he adds Drejka could still face charges.

“The final charging decision would be made by the State Attorney as the law says it should in this situation,” he said. “I’ve said from day one that this case will be referred to the State Attorney’s office. I’ve never said the investigation is complete or over, and in fact, I’ve said the contrary. As far as my decision not to arrest Drejka, my decision is based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. It is a preliminary decision about arrest and not a final decision about charges.”

Meanwhile, debate over Gualtieri’s decision has spilled over into this year’s election, including the Florida Governor’s race.

All the Democratic gubernatorial candidates have called for the repeal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

“And, we should all in Florida be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this to continue to be on the books,” said Billionaire Jeff Greene, speaking recently on MSNBC. “And, why this Sheriff has not arrested this murderer is completely beyond me.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was also among a group civil rights leaders and politicians, who marched recently to the Capitol to speak to with Governor Rick Scott, who was in Colombia at the time.

Gillum participated in a brief sit-in until they spoke to a Governor staffer. Calling this an emergency, Gillum said the Governor Scott had the power to issue an Executive Order to put a halt to the law.

“And, this is the kind of confusion that we cannot tolerate,” said Gillum, at the time. “This kind of confusion can result in the loss of innocent life. Now, they’ve issued Executive Orders to declare that beaches are public. They’ve issued Executive Orders to declare that we ought to extend voting hours, so that people can vote, rightly so. We call on them again to issue an Executive Order to protect all life.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates have also weighed in.

During the final GOP debate, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam sided with the Sheriff.

“I’m proud to have worked with the law enforcement officials who have endorsed me and are supporting my campaign,” said Putnam. “And, I stand with them when the Democrats are holding a sit-in and flying in Reverend Al Sharpton to protest our support of the Second Amendment here in Florida. My opponent did not. I will protect your right to defend yourself, to defend your family, to defend your business, to raise your children, to safely and responsibly hunt and shoot and collect firearms.”

Putnam opponent, Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis said while he’s against a repeal of the self defense law, he believed Stand Your Ground did not apply in this case.

“Democrats like Gillum and Greene, they would impose upon Floridians a duty to retreat when they are being attacked,” said DeSantis. “I think that is totally unacceptable. I think that puts the scales in favor of the criminal element. I believe that we have a right to stand our ground. I think it’s a good law, but I also think it should be applied with an objective standard. I’ve been joined with a lot of people on the republican side who wrote that. So, we will defend the Stand Your Ground law 100 percent, but I don’t want some of these instances that really don’t involve that to be put in and end up being fodder for criticism. It’s an important law and it’s a way to protect our freedoms.”

Meanwhile, Friday at noon marked the deadline for lawmakers to decide whether to trigger a special session to repeal or amend Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

It required three fifths majority in the Republican-controlled legislature. But, that Democratic effort had already failed by Thursday night.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.