Community holds vigil in Clearwater for man killed in parking lot dispute, protests ‘stand your ground’

Published July 22 2018
Updated July 23 2018

Friends, family and supporters filled the sanctuary at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church on Sunday night calling for justice in the death of Markeis McGlockton last week.

The vigil and protest, organized by the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, rallied more than 150 people riled by a shooting Thursday that started with an argument over a parking space.

Those gathered expressed anger, too, with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s decision not to arrest the shooter, Michael Drejka. The sheriff said the shooting fell within the criteria of Florida’s sweeping self-defense law known as "stand your ground."

McGlockton’s family — including his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, and 5-year-old son, Markeis McGlockton Jr., who both witnessed Thursday’s violence — sat at the front of the sanctuary, backed by an impassioned crowd, much of which later marched more than a mile to the scene of the shooting.

"It was wrong for Mr. Drejka to shoot and kill Markeis. It was wrong for him to even antagonize Britany. It was definitely wrong for Mr. Drejka not to be arrested," said Pastor Carlton Childs, president of the Upper Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance. "We refuse to remain quiet while laws are being made and constructed to permit shooting and killing human beings."

The sheriff has forwarded the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to make a final determination.

Thursday’s shooting at the Circle A Food Store at 1201 Sunset Point Road near Clearwater started about 3:30 p.m. when Jacobs, 25, parked in a handicap spot while McGlockton and their 5-year-old son went inside to buy snacks and drinks.

Drejka, 47, confronted Jacobs about why she was parked there without a permit, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The two started arguing heatedly. McGlockton, 28, caught wind of the confrontation.

He left the store, walked up to Drejka and shoved him to the ground with both hands. Drejka pulled out a handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest. McGlockton was soon pronounced dead.

Gualtieri said the next day that he was precluded by law from arresting the shooter and seeking charges against him, saying Drejka told deputies he was in fear of further attack.

"Our job and our role is not to substitute our judgment for the law and what the Legislature has crafted as the framework, but to enforce it equally and fairly as we’re required to do," the sheriff said during a news conference.

The incident grabbed national headlines and sparked backlash on social media. Clearwater police officers started checking on the shooter’s home after his address was posted online, said communications director Joelle Castelli on Sunday.

Speakers at the vigil not only criticized the decision not to make an arrest but called out the "stand your ground" law as, in the words of NAACP chapter president Marva McWhite, "a loophole that enables and tries to immune the likes of a premeditated murderer."

"There has always been and will always be a clause somewhere and somehow that is designed to keep us down," McWhite said.

Members of faith-based communities from St. Petersburg to Clearwater spoke at the vigil. Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter, City Manager Bill Horne and City Council member Hoyt Hamilton also were in attendance, although the shooting happened in unincorporated Pinellas County within the Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction.

Organizers read a statement from Florida Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who could not attend, saying he stands "with those who are committed to justice for the McGlockton family."

"This matter is not over," one read from the statement to cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.

The crowd raised about $3,000 for the family, pouring cash into several offering plates passed down the blue-cushioned pews. At one point, the family stood at the front while organizers laid hands on them in prayer.

"I’m overwhelmed with all the support," said McGlockton’s father, Michael McGlockton, 46. "I knew he was loved, but I didn’t know I was going to be walking into this type of crowd."

Calling his son a good father and family man, he emphasized McGlockton did what anyone would have done in the encounter with Drejka.

"He walked out there trying to protect his family," he said.

After the vigil, the crowd gathered outside the church to march to the Circle A store, where a memorial had been set up for McGlockton with a poster that said, "No justice no peace" and "He was murdered in front of his kids."

The crowd held signs calling to "repeal racist ‘stand your ground’" and chanted "Justice for Markeis."

At the store, Michael McGlockton spoke through a megaphone to thank supporters.

"We’re trying to get a movement on this thing," he said.

Someone in the crowd responded: "There’s a movement, buddy. There’s a movement."

Times staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or Follow @kathrynvarn.