CLEARWATER — The story of Markeis McGlockton, the Clearwater man killed last year in a parking lot shooting that touched off a debate about self-defense, is kicking off a docu-series about injustices facing black communities in America.
The premiere of the six-episode Black Entertainment Television series "Finding Justice" makes the case to repeal Florida's stand your ground law and others across the country like it. It zeroes in on the shooting of McGlockton, an unarmed black man, by Michael Drejka, a white man, to make the argument that the laws disproportionately hurt black people and embolden white vigilantes to kill.
The episode, set to air at 8 p.m. Sunday, includes interviews with McGlockton's family, state Sen. Darryl Rouson and Clearwater civil rights attorney Michele Rayner, as well as the rapper T.I. and comedian Rell Battle.
Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, has an executive producer credit, along with Dany Garcia, Johnson's business partner who produced several films in which he had starring roles, and Dream Hampton, the filmmaker behind "Surviving R. Kelly."
McGlockton's July 19 death garnered national headlines and reignited a debate around Florida's stand your ground law after Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced his agency was precluded from arresting the shooter because of it.
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Surveillance video footage showed Drejka arguing with McGlockton's girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, because she had parked in a handicap-reserved parking space without a permit.
McGlockton, who caught wind of the argument while shopping inside the convenient store with his 5-year-old son, went outside and shoved Drejka to the ground. Drejka pulled his gun and shot McGlockton in the chest. He told investigators he was in fear of further attack.
About three weeks later, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe charged Drejka with manslaughter. His trial is set to begin in August. Drejka's attorneys haven't said whether they will pursue a stand your ground defense, which would set off a separate legal process, or go with the broader argument of self-defense — the same route George Zimmerman's attorneys took that got Zimmerman acquitted in the 2012 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The episode pans over sweeping views of the Tampa Bay area, including the Circle A Food Store at Sunset Point Road and Douglas Avenue where a memorial still sits in the parking lot where McGlockton was shot.
It opens through the lens of McGlockton's father, Michael McGlockton, and includes news clips and surveillance video footage.
"From the video that I saw," Michael McGlockton said, "we had a wannabe cop come up to a mother and her kids in the car, confront the mother in front of her kids about parking in a handicap spot, knowing that he was armed. Markeis comes out the store and did exactly what I taught him to do: Stand up for your family. Protect your family at all costs."
The episode recaps Gualtieri's decision not to arrest, with scenes questioning whether the same call would have been made had McGlockton and Drejka's races been reversed.
Footage of the near-constant slew of protests and vigils in the weeks after McGlockton's death pivots to his Aug. 23 arrest. It then jumps to one of the more bizarre elements of the case: Lysa Clifton, the lawyer who signed on under questionable circumstances to represent Drejka.
She's introduced laying out by a pool, explaining how to take the perfect selfie on her phone.
"It's sickening that in 2018 we still have to deal with the black and white thing," she says to the camera. "This was not a race issue. The stand your ground law is not a racist stand your ground law. I would just like to say for the record that I am not a racist. You can look at my history. I have black in my blood. My dad had an afro."
Clifton is white, law enforcement records show.
Clifton withdrew from the case in October, citing irreconcilable differences between her and Drjeka. She's currently under investigation by the Florida Bar sparked by the way she approached Drejka to represent him.
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But the episode also includes commentary from two of Drejka's remaining lawyers, John Trevena and Bryant Camareno.
"You have credible attorneys who are beating the drums that this is all about race and sending the message that any verdict other than guilty would obviously have a racial component then, too," Trevena says. "So that's the problem we have."
Adds Camareno: "I just hate when it becomes an issue of race because then people get distracted from the law, get distracted from the facts. What were the facts? What happened?"
The episode makes the case that race can't be separated from the facts of the case. It embeds footage from Drejka's interview with detectives in which he said he couldn't see much of McGlockton before he pulled the trigger but could tell he was black. It also features speakers opining on systemic injustices in the criminal justice system.
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"White people have a tight association between blackness and crime," says Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford University. "It is justification for the stereotypes that exist. So it reinforces this idea that blacks are criminal."
The episode turns to the political landscape around stand your ground, with scenes of Andrew Gillum calling to repeal the law while on the campaign trail as Florida's Democratic nominee for governor. It also touches on the National Rifle Association's role in enacting Florida's law in 2005.
The premiere concludes with a call for action, with an emphasis on the importance of grassroots activism by highlighting the Circle of Mothers Tampa Bay, an activist group of mothers who have lost children to violence.
Pressure should stay on prosecutors ahead of the August trial, the episode argues, but should could continue beyond that with the goal of repealing the law.
"The importance of repealing stand your ground is as critical as life and death," says Rouson, who in July called for a special session to rework the law. "I believe in America that we stand on the principle that you have the right to protest for rights. And where else is the public supposed to go but to the courthouse or to the capitol house to vent its expression of injustice?"
Adds Ashley Green, a lead organizer for Bay Area Dream Defenders: "How do we hold our society accountable for creating people like Michael Drejka? In my opinion, justice really looks like a transformation. It looks like us making sure that no one's first or even final solution is pulling out a gun and murdering somebody."
The episode airs 8 p.m. Sunday on BET, local channels 71 on Spectrum and 98 on Wow! The remaining five episodes in the series will air at 8 p.m. Sundays through April 14.
Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.