The Rev. Al Sharpton misfired when he suggested Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was influenced by racial considerations when he decided not to arrest Michael Drejka for shooting and killing Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot because of the stand your ground law. Sharpton also was flat wrong to demand that Gualtieri arrest Drejka or resign. The protests and the demands for change should be directed at the indefensible stand your ground law and the National Rifle Association’s puppets in the Florida Legislature who voted for it.
Hundreds of people jammed into a Clearwater church Sunday and heard Sharpton criticize Gualtieri’s decision not to arrest Drejka for killing McGlockton on July 19 after Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend over parking in a handicap space. Sharpton focused on race; Drejka, 47, is white, and McGlockton, 28, was black. "(Drejka) killed an unarmed black man who was standing up for his family,’’ Sharpton told the audience as he criticized Gualtieri. "Lock him up, or give up your badge.’’
Watch the video of the shooting, and different viewers will reach different conclusions. Drejka approaches the car and questions McGlockton’s girlfriend with their young children inside the car. McGlockton comes out of the store and pushes Drejka to the ground. Drejka shoots McGlockton, who staggers back into the store as Drejka keeps his gun trained on him. The Tampa Bay Times has received hundreds of letters from readers who have passionately argued both sides.
Gualtieri, who is a lawyer, reasonably decided not to arrest Drejka because of the 2005 stand your ground law that eliminated any duty to retreat if you can safely escape. Instead, the law allows a person to stand their ground any place where they have a right to be if they reasonably believe deadly force is necessary to prevent death, great bodily harm or commission of a forcible felony like robbery. Even worse, the Legislature in 2017 shifted and raised the burden of proof in stand your ground hearings to require the prosecutor to show the defendant is not immune from prosecution — not to require the defendant to show he qualifies for immunity. That’s upside down.
Sharpton should have sought guidance from some of Pinellas County’s most influential black elected leaders before he questioned Gualtieri’s motives and demanded his badge. State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken Welch and Pinellas County School Board Chairwoman Rene Flowers each told the Times editorial board Monday they are not calling for Gualtieri’s resignation. They believe Drejka should be charged with a crime, but they know the sheriff and over the years have found him to be fair but firm. Like all five Democratic candidates for governor who attended the event Sunday, they want the stand your ground law to be repealed or reworked. Rouson is pushing the Legislature to call a special session to take up the issue, a worthy cause that Republicans likely will reject.
Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe now has to decide whether to charge Drejka with a crime, and it appears to be a close call either way. He may reach a different conclusion than Gualtieri about the impact of the stand your ground law in this case. But it’s unfair for Sharpton or anyone else to question the motives of the sheriff or the state attorney at this point. Let the process work, let all of the evidence come out and direct the protests and the criticism where it belongs: The Florida Legislature, which crafted a law that has fostered vigilante justice and become a license to kill.