Briefly, On Confrontation, Conflict, and Murder
The facts of the case are very, very simple:
Markeis McGlockton was at the Circle A Food Store on Sunset Point Road near Clearwater, Florida.
He had his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, and his three children with him. He parked in a handicap spot and went into the store. Michael Drejka, a man nearby, objected to McGlockton’s choice of parking spots and initiated a confrontation with McGlockton’s girlfriend. Seeing the commotion, McGlockton left the store, confronted Drejka, eventually pushing him to the ground. Drejka then pulled a gun, shot McGlockton once in the chest, killing him. McGlockton was black; Drejka is white. Prosecutors have announced that Drejka was standing his ground, and will not be prosecuting him.
What comes next is entirely based upon what is seen in the paragraph above. Some people will see a man defending his girlfriend and their children from an armed, confrontational stranger who obviously represented an immediate threat to their well-being. (And although McGlockton had no way of knowing this at the time, Drejka has done this before; several months earlier, Drejka had threatened to shoot another man in the same parking lot, regarding that man’s decision to park in the same spot.) Some people will see Drejka simply defending himself, to the maximal imaginable degree, from an aggressor.
But regardless of what people see in this story, Florida law sees Drejka as a victim completely justified in killing McGlockton, all because Drejka can credibly report that he was afraid for his own well-being in the aftermath of having been shoved to the ground. It does not matter that he instigated the conflict; it does not matter that he was the armed aggressor; it does not matter that he is the one that posed the threat; it only matters that McGlockton almost immediately, but only briefly, had the upper hand.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said as much late last week, noting that although he questioned Drejka’s decision to shoot McGlockton, “But I don’t get to, and we don’t get to, substitute our judgment for Drejka’s judgment.”
That claim is a familiar one. It is often trotted out in the aftermath of police officers having killed unarmed civilians. And, predictably, it conveniently assumes away the victim’s human existence. Drejka is allowed to be a chickenshit; McGlockton is allowed nothing at all, even the meaningless concept of pursued justice in the aftermath of his killing.
It has been six years since George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. Jurors later excused the killing, noting that Zimmerman said that he was scared and that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law required nothing more than Zimmerman’s fear. It likely helped that of the only two witnesses of the shooting, only one of them – Zimmerman – lived to talk about it, and in just the damndest coincidence in the history of the world, his version of events exonerated him completely. In Drejka’s case, there were multiple witnesses, as well as security footage, but police and prosecutors defaulted to Drejka’s claimed emotional state; the law says it is more important than everything else, including McGlockton’s humanity.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law makes a certain amount of sense, at least in theory, because it assumes the fundamental polarization of a conflict. Surely, the law imagines, somebody is always the aggressor, and somebody is always the victim, and that they are never the same person. The law’s authors – if we assume the very best of them which, frankly, might be a stretch – simply sought to empower victims to protect themselves, and never imagined that the victim and the aggressor might be the same person.
The problem is that conflict is so often so much more complicated than what was being imagined. McGlockton and Drejka are one example; Martin and Zimmerman are another. There is no looking at either story and coming away from them believing that the men who lived were the innocent victims of the men they killed. At best, both situations were complex, and the “victims” only ended up becoming so as a result of their own over-the-top aggression. Well…
…there are some people who look at both situations and see Drejka and Zimmerman as victims, regardless. Those individuals are the same ones who can look at a certain subset of police shootings and conclude that they were justified, no matter the circumstances, no matter the situation, no matter the outcome. Many of these same individuals will insist that it is an absurdity to allege that they are only drawing these conclusions because the dead men within this subset were black. (It is unfair to allege as much, of course; concluding somebody’s racism requires much more than concluding the need to kill them, apparently.)
Such conclusions are more equal than others, even if those conclusions are motivated by nothing more substantive than the hosility shown in the links at the start of this section, and especially if those conclusions are at odds with the facts of the matter.
So then let’s be clear: Florida’s Stand Your Ground is a poorly written nightmare, one that does not account for the realities of conflict, one that appears to legalize murder so long as a murderer is willing to say, “but I was afraid.” That fear trumps all else. It now enables a particular sort of human being who is willing to initiate a conflict without being willing to pay the costs of having done so, all while rabid advocates insist that this is right and just and appropriate.