Britany Jacobs had a feeling Michael Drejka was itching for a fight when he approached her car last Thursday in the parking lot of a Florida convenience store and chided her for taking a handicap spot.
“He wanted somebody to be angry at. He just wanted someone to fight him,” she told Good Morning America earlier this week. “He was picking a fight. I’m just sitting, waiting for my family to come back to the car.”
Her boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, was inside the Circle A in Clearwater with their 5-year-old child as the argument escalated outside. What happened next is caught on surveillance video—and has sparked a renewed national debate over Stand Your Ground laws, particularly in Florida, which first enacted the controversial legislation in 2005.
In the video, McGlockton, who is black, can be seen darting out of the store and forcefully pushing Drejka, a 47-year-old white man, to the ground outside of his girlfriend’s car. He then appears to shuffle backwards as Drejka pulls a gun from his pocket and fires a single bullet at him.
In a matter of seconds, a petty dispute over a parking spot took an unthinkably tragic turn, as McGlockton, 28, stumbled back inside the convenience store. He’d been shot in the chest and later died, authorities said.
A day later, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri called a press conference to announce that he wouldn’t be charging Drejka because he appeared to be defending himself under the state’s Stand Your Ground law. It didn’t matter that McGlockton was backing up as he got shot. It also didn’t matter that Drejka had a history of angry confrontations with drivers parking in handicap spots—including one trucker who said he threatened to shoot him.
“[Drejka] felt the next thing was that he was going to be slammed again. He was going to be struck again and he was in fear,” said Gualtieri, who holds a law degree from the Stetson University College of Law.
But McGlockton’s loved ones aren’t buying it. Under Stand Your Ground, a person can only use deadly force without retreating if they “reasonably” believe it’s necessary to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm.”
“This case is not a Stand Your Ground case,” the McGlockton family’s lawyer, Michele Raynor, asserted during an emotional press conference Tuesday afternoon. “You meet deadly force with deadly force. Mr. McGlockton, he shoved Mr. Drejka because he was advancing on Ms. Jacobs... to protect her. There was no imminent danger that Mr. Drejka was going to die.”
Some defense attorneys agreed, saying Drejka, who could not be reached for comment, appeared to shoot from a place of retribution rather than fear.
“I don’t believe if an unarmed man at that point is backing away, is turning away, that the shooter truly, reasonably believed he was in imminent harm,” Clearwater lawyer Roger Futerman told The Daily Beast. “I think he was just pissed off as he got pushed over.”
Marvin Lim, an Atlanta-based civil rights attorney, remains hopeful that given the video evidence, the state will push the case forward.
“I don’t think it can be seen as reasonable for the Drejka to fear for his life and therefore use deathly force,” he told The Daily Beast.
Jacobs said at the press conference Tuesday that she was the one who was scared—for her young children in the car, for herself, and for her partner.
“This man came to me, this man was armed. He could’ve killed my whole family,” she said. “Markeis, all he was trying to do was protect what was his. That was his family, that was his kids.”
Before shoving Drejka, he shouted, “Get away from my girl,” Jacobs added.
The case will soon be in the hands of the state attorney’s office, which can decide whether or not to bring charges, and that process could take months. Complicating matters further is the fact that state lawmakers last year made it easier to use Stand Your Ground as a defense by shifting the burden of proof in these cases from defendants to prosecutors.
“It’s now up to the prosecutor to prove that the defense was not being evoked legitimately,” Lim explained.
Futerman believes it’s not likely that state prosecutors will indict Drejka, particularly since the sheriff decided not to arrest him. “It’s so political and I think the state has a very close relationship with the sheriff,” he said. “If I was guesstimating, I don’t see the state attorney’s office filing any charge.”
The debate is bringing Stand Your Ground into focus once again: Even Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter conceded that the law could use some “significant improvements” in the wake of the shooting.
“My hope is that we learn from the Parkland students and that our community is able to use this incident to get some attention from the Legislature to give this law another look and make sure it is exactly what the people want,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.
In particular, Slaughter suggested that police departments shouldn’t be held civilly liable if they make an arrest in a case that’s ultimately covered under Stand Your Ground—one reason Gualtieri gave for not arresting Drejka.
Others contend the laws, which have been unpopular among law enforcement, should be repealed entirely, as they encourage citizens to seek vigilante justice—or shoot first and think later. The Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward, which has started a repeal campaign, estimates that 240 people are killed each year in Stand Your Ground cases in Florida.
“It’s like going back to the Wild West almost, but that’s the law that our legislature thought was a good idea,” Bjorn Brunvand, a criminal attorney in Clearwater, told The Daily Beast. “Before the Stand Your Ground law, [Drejka] certainly would’ve been charged with manslaughter or second-degree murder.”
Vigilante justice aside, the law is especially harmful to minorities: Data shows that whites who kill black people in states with Stand Your Ground are 354 percent more likely to be cleared of a crime than whites who kill other whites.
“Imagine what would’ve happened if the roles had been reversed [in this case],” said Caroline Light, the director of undergraduate studies in the women, gender and sexuality program at Harvard University who wrote a book called Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self-Defense. “A black man approaching her aggressively, angrily and getting shoved. I would bet you anything that the black man would’ve been taken to jail.”
She pointed to another Florida case in which a black woman said she fired a “warning shot” into a wall during an altercation with her husband, who had a history of domestic violence. The woman’s Stand Your Ground defense failed, and she was ultimately sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
“You can see the racial optics that work here: A black woman claiming to be afraid of her estranged spouse.. that was not going to fly under Stand Your Ground,” Light said.
One of the must frustrating aspects of Stand Your Ground is that the laws are too subjective, experts say. What is a reasonable fear? How can you tell when the standard has been met? For McGlocktan’s family, this case is a clear one—and it should result in an indictment.
“We’re hopeful the office of [State Attorney] Bernie McCabe files charges against Mr. Drejka. If not, they’re sanctioning a murder,” Raynor said.
At the press conference Tuesday, McGlocktan’s kin recalled their loved one as a “gentle giant,” a creative soul who was devoted to his kids and family.
“He was just the best man ever,” Jacobs said, breaking down in tears. “He didn’t have to go like this.”