CLEARWATER — In a packed church Sunday afternoon, Florida governor hopeful Andrew Gillum charged voters to let the state’s "stand your ground" law be a make-or-break issue for candidates come November.
Gillum, with NAACP leaders, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and several clergy, spoke inside Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 10 days and a five-minute drive removed from the parking lot where Markeis McGlockton, 28, was fatally shot by Michael Drejka, 47.
"This comes down to electing elected officials who understand that their top priority needs to be the repeal of ‘Stand Your Ground,’?" Gillum said.
McGlockton’s immediate family sat in the front row, along with another 150 members of the audience, who filled the brick building’s pews.
McGlockton, a black man, was shot and killed in a parking lot outside a Circle A Food Store on July 19. He had gone inside the store while his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, waited in the car.
Surveillance video showed Drejka, who is white, walked up to the car. According to deputies, he confronted Jacobs about parking in an accessible parking space without a permit.
McGlockton came out of the store and shoved Drejka to the ground. A few seconds later, Drejka, from the ground a few feet away, pulled his handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest.
Sunday’s event came nine days after the Pinellas County sheriff announced he would not arrest Drejka because his fear for his life meant the situation was "within the bookends of ‘stand your ground.’?"
Gillum, the most prominent black candidate for governor, insisted the law disproportionately helps those who kill black victims.
"We … know that ‘stand your ground’ is not colorblind," he said. "Because of the color of my skin, I represent a certain level of threat."
The candidate argued the law is irrelevant given castle doctrine, which gives people immunity while defending themselves in their own home.
"What ‘stand your ground’ did was, it took castle doctrine and took it into the streets," he said, arguing it allows people to consider nearly anything a threat. "Maybe you speak a little too loud. Maybe your skin is a little too dark."
In the loudest moment in the two-hour event, Gillum asked the crowd who was prepared to refuse to vote for candidates who support the law, to raucous applause.
The candidate admitted there was little difference in how he and other Democratic candidates approached the issue. But "the other side," he said, refuses to take action "because they don’t fear us."
In addition to Gillum, Florida’s other Democratic candidates for governor — Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Philip Levine — responded to questions by the Times last week. Each said they favored reforming or repealing the law.
Gillum gave his support for other gun control measures, including preventing domestic abusers from obtaining weapons permits and suggesting if anyone wants a weapon "that shoots 60 bullets in 60 seconds, you ought to join the military."
NAACP Clearwater/Upper Pinellas Branch President Marva McWhite called McGlockton’s death "an act of senseless, and, I believe, preventable violence," and said the group "must ask every candidate running for public office if they will support sensible gun safety and gun control legislation."
More than an hour and a half into the town hall, former governor U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist arrived, speaking to the crowd for about a minute.
Crist reminded them that he and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson asked the Department of Justice to investigate McGlockton’s death.
"We’re taking action," Crist said. "This will not stand."
Contact Langston Taylor at 727-893-8659 or [email protected] Follow @langstonitaylor.