ST. PETERSBURG — Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday that the Rev. Al Sharpton should "go back to New York" and mind his own business after the national civil rights activist's visit to Clearwater over the weekend to address the shooting of Markeis McGlockton.
"It's a bunch of rhetoric. I don't pay much attention to it to tell you the truth," the sheriff said when asked for his reaction to Sharpton's appearance at the end of an unrelated news conference in St. Petersburg. "I wasn't there, and I don't really care what Al Sharpton has to say. Go back to New York. Mind your own business."
Sharpton was met by hundreds of people Sunday during his stop at St. John Primitive Baptist Church in Clearwater as he pressed local leaders to file charges against Michael Drejka, the white man who shot McGlockton, who is black, during a fight over a convenience store parking space July 19.
Gualtieri did not arrest Drejka, saying he was precluded by Florida's controversial stand your ground self-defense law. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's office is now reviewing the case to decide whether to press charges.
"If you got to the scene, Mr. Sheriff, and Markeis had been standing over the white man, you would have cuffed him and taken him in jail," Sharpton said during the rally. "(Drejka) killed an unarmed black man who was standing up for his family. Lock him up, or give up your badge."
When reached Monday, a spokeswoman for Sharpton sent a statement comparing Gualtieri's comments to "those of sheriffs out of the 1960s that used to call civil rights leaders invited in by victims, 'outside agitators.'"
"I came at the invitation of the family and literally thousands of people in his county," it continued. "Additionally, five candidates for governor joined me because he did not take care of his business. It would not be necessary for me to do so if he took care of his own, and until he does I will keep coming to Clearwater."
The sheriff, who is white, was also asked about the candidates' appearances during the news conference, to which he answered they were "politicking."
"The facts and the law matter," he said. "Learn the facts and learn the law and then you can opine ... but you get in politics, that's what you're going to get."
The sheriff himself is a politician who has successfully run twice for the elected office of the sheriff since Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the job in 2011.
Since Gualtieri, a Republican, made the call July 20 not to arrest Drejka, he has faced pressure from all sides, including the NRA and Republican lawmakers who appeared to criticize his analysis of the law in a recent Politico story.
Several civil rights leaders and Democrats, along with calling for the repeal of stand your ground, have questioned whether the case would have had the same outcome had McGlockton been white and Drejka black.
Prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing McGlockton's girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, attended Sunday's rally. He was joined by the parents of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012. Crump also represented Martin's family.
While the shooter, George Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, didn't end up using stand your ground as a defense, the case's initial touchpoint with the law launched a national debate that helped spark the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some research suggests race plays a part "stand your ground" cases, including a Tampa Bay Times report from 2012 analyzing almost 200 cases across the state. It found that 73 percent of people who killed a black person got no penalty compared to 59 percent for people who killed a white person.
Gualtieri has said there is no evidence in the McGlockton case to show race was a factor, which he echoed when reached by phone Monday. He said his comments at the news conference were directed at Sharpton's remarks tying race to the case.
"It's really easy to go around throwing wild allegations that have no basis in the air and inflaming people when there's just no basis for it," he said. "That's wrong and irresponsible."
Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.
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