A father who was killed in front of his family after a dispute over a parking spot has thrust Florida’s Stand Your Ground law back into the spotlight – six years after it made national headlines in the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Surveillance video shows Michael Drejka fatally shooting Markeis McGlockton, 28, outside of convenience store in Clearwater on July 19 after McGlockton shoved Drejka to the ground. Police said they did not charge Drejka with McGlockton’s death because he is protected by the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which which allows residents to use deadly force without retreating to protect themselves against a perceived threat. But two lawyers who reviewed the footage say it shows McGlockton backing away from Drejka after shoving him, which they say indicated he posed no threat.
“Stand Your Ground shouldn’t make Florida the Wild West,” says criminal defense attorney Anthony Rickman, who has tried and won cases involving Stand Your Ground in Florida. “Just because you got pushed doesn’t mean you can shoot someone. People still have the right to act rationally. I don’t believe the law was created to let you kill someone for a shove.”
Drejka has not publicly commented on the shooting. A spokesperson for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said he did not known whether Drejka has hired an attorney.
In 2017, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law changed to put the burden of proof on prosecution. Previously, defendants had to prove they were in fear of bodily harm. It is now the state’s responsibility to provide clear and convincing evidence the defendant is not entitled to Stand Your Ground immunities.
Rickman says prosecutors would have a hard case because they would have to prove Drejka was not acting reasonably. But he says, the footage and witness testimony will help. Rickman says it is notable that the footage shows that after McGlckoton pushed Drejka, McGlckoton didn’t pounce or continue to attack. Rickman added that while on the ground Drejka appeared to look up at McGlockton and took about four seconds before he fired.
“If he was in fear of bodily harm or death the video doesn’t show it,” Rickman says. Based on the footage, Rickman says he believes prosecutors have enough evidence for a second-degree murder conviction.
The 2005 Stand Your Ground law was thrust into the national spotlight in 2012, when unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. He argued that he acted in self defense and was acquitted. Zimmerman’s defense team did not invoke the law in court, but it was a key part of the discussion about why Zimmerman wasn’t immediately arrested and charged after the shooting. The case sparked national outrage, especially in the black community. Many people argued that Martin’s race influenced both Zimmerman’s actions and the initial decision not to pursue charges.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented Martin’s family, tells TIME he sees similarities between the McGlockton and Martin cases. Crump says he believes race played a factor in this shooting – as in Martin’s death. McGlockton is black and Drejka is white.
He says Stand Your Ground disproportionately comes into play in cases where young black men are killed.
“The similarities are that Drejka and Trayvon’s murderer were the initial aggressors,” Crump says. “Zimmerman pursued Trayvon, initiated the confrontation and killed him then claimed it was self defense. Drejka confronted [McGlockton’s girlfriend] Ms. Jacobs but then he claims self defense. If you’re in fear for life why would you initiate confrontation?”
Crump says McGlockton’s family deserves justice.
“The killer killed an unarmed black person,” he says. “We should charge this wannabe racist cop with the same thing he would have charged McGlockton with if he pulled the trigger.”
On Tuesday, McGlockton’s family attorney Michele Raynor released a statement asking the community to pressure the State Attorney’s office to charge Drejka.
“Mr. McGlockton was protecting his family and ultimately lost his life at the hands of Mr. Drejka. Mr.Drejka is not in custody,” Raynor said in a statement. He called on the community to contact State Attorney Bernie McCabe and “and demand that a decision to file charges against Michael Drejka is made.”
As of Wednesday, the McCabe’s office said no charges had been filed, but that the investigation remains open.