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The Right To Be Afraid

There’s something wrong here that our legal system is, apparently, incapable of addressing.

The July 19 murder of Markeis McGlockton was back in the news recently because the shooter, Michael Drejka, wound up being charged, a month later, with manslaughter.

“He owned the gun legally and had a concealed carry permit.”

That matters?

In an otherwise neutral and informative article, this reads like a bit of legal fetishism. Another human being is dead, oh so needlessly and pointlessly, thanks to a moment of lethally armed anger in a convenience store parking lot in Clearwater, Florida last month. But the killer’s weapon was bureaucratically correct: clean as a whistle.

This is more than merely irrelevant. There’s something wrong here that our legal system is, apparently, incapable of addressing.

The July 19 death of Markeis McGlockton was back in the news recently because the shooter, Michael Drejka, wound up being charged, a month later, with manslaughter. Thanks to the state’s Stand Your Ground law, he, like George Zimmerman in 2012, was initially allowed to walk free. He had been “defending himself,” or at least he thought he was, and that was good enough for the state of Florida.

The young man who was shot, a father of three, also thought he was defending himself, or his family, but . . . . oh well. When guns are involved, interpersonal complexity vanishes and life becomes very simple. One guy wins. The other guy loses.

What happened was, McGlockton drove into the Circle A Food Store parking lot with his girlfriend and their children – a 4-month-old, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old – parked in the handicap spot and, with his 5-year-old son, went into the store to buy chips and soft drinks. No, he wasn’t handicapped. They had no permit to park there.

Drejka, who happened to be in the parking lot at the time, took offense at this and began lecturing Britany Jacobs, who was sitting in the car with the other two children. “He was picking a fight. I’m just sitting, waiting for my family to come back to the car,” she said afterward.

McGlockton heard the commotion and became alarmed. He ran out of the store and confronted Drejka, pushing him to the ground. Drejka, still on the ground, pulled out his fully legal handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest. Mortally wounded, McGlockton staggered back into the store and collapsed in front of his screaming son. He died as his girlfriend knelt at his side, trying to stanch the flow of blood.

Picayune legal issues are so beside the point in this tragedy. But in the U.S. system of justice, tragedy quickly collapses into trivia. The shooter paused for several seconds before he fired. Does that indicate he wasn’t truly in fear of his life? This may be part of the case the prosecution makes against Drejka. Under Florida’s recently revised Stand Your Ground law, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that deadly force was not justified.

“What’s relevant is not whether this guy’s a good guy, nice guy, or whether he’s a jerk, or whether he’s a thorn in people’s side,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri explained the next day. “What’s relevant and the only thing we can look at here is, was he in fear of further bodily harm?”

Something seems to be missing here. Whatever the legal system regards as relevant, a man is dead for no reason and the state, it seems, is having a hard time trying to care. Could the fact that the dead man is black and the accused killer is white have something to do with this?

Ten days after the shooting, Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee and a Democratic candidate for governor, addressing a packed audience at Clearwater’s Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, put the matter bluntly: “We . . . know that ‘stand your ground’ is not colorblind. Because of the color of my skin, I represent a certain level of threat.”

Legally coddled racism? In the United States of America?

John Roman of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, quoted by Michael Harriot at The Root, pointed out in a 2012 study: “Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings. In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent.”

Harriot adds: “The data is clear: ‘Stand your ground’ laws benefit white people who kill blacks.”

There’s something else to add to the mix. Combine Stand Your Ground mentality with concealed carry laws and what you have is constantly simmering danger for all people of color, for two reasons: 1. Most people, as the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence points out, “carry biases against racial minorities beyond their conscious awareness.” 2. Being armed intensifies one’s fear alert. The coalition notes that, according to a study by Notre Dame psychology professor James Brockmole, “Wielding a gun increases a person’s bias to see guns in the hands of others.”

I return to a man bleeding to death inside a convenience store as his 5-year-old son looks on. Markeis McGlockton’s death was a tragedy born of fear and, in all likelihood, racism – both of which were legally armed. Our legal and political systems lack the will to take on guns any more than they are willing to take on war. Indeed, I note in passing that the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act has just been signed by the president, its bipartisan approval hemorrhaging another $717 billion for military spending next year to perpetuate violence at the global level.

What this says to me is that the nation’s first priority is not people’s safety so much as the protection of their right to be afraid.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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