Maksym Dykha

Civil Liberties

Stand Your Ground May Be Facing Its First Legal Challenge

In order to get away with murder it is best you follow a few simple rules: be a white man, target a black man or other person of color, tell the cops you believed your life was in danger whether true or not. Oh, and it also helps if you live in Florida.

Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Florida was released from prison in 2017 after serving three years behind bars and another two years under house arrest. A jury took only 12 minutes to sentence Alexander to 20 years in prison—the maximum—for aggravated assault. Alexander is a survivor of domestic abuse. She filed a restraining order against her abusive husband, and he violated it, showing up at her home. She fired a warning shot in the air. She requested Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) protections. She was denied.

In 2012, George Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, unlike Alexander, successfully invoked Florida’s SYG law and was set free. It was a case study of a pathetic little man living out the “good guy with a gun” fantasy. And by targeting a black kid, Zimmerman hedged his bets he could get away with it—if Trayvon were white he would probably still be alive. Despite stalking Martin through a subdivision without cause before fatally shooting the 17-year-old, a jury acquitted Zimmerman, and he was free to re-offend again, again and again.

After Martin was killed, The Tampa Bay Times cataloged the number of times SYG was invoked and created a database. As of 2013, the paper found that “defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.” It is worth thinking about those stats. Numbers don’t lie.

Florida gave birth to the controversial and highly subjective “stand your ground” laws. Backed by the NRA, the law passed in 2005. Then, like a virus, SYG spread throughout the United States. These laws flourished in the years following the September 11th terrorist attacks and tellingly, Hurricane Katrina.
Like a virus, Stand Your Ground spread throughout the United States. These laws flourished in the years following the September 11th terrorist attacks and tellingly, Hurricane Katrina.
Who wouldn’t need a gun after failed steak magnate Donald Trump personally witnessed New Jersey Muslims celebrating as the towers fell? Or after watching the same loop of video of a handful of scary black men looting in the post-Katrina hellscape? Never mind the truth behind either tragedy.

Michael Drejka of Pinellas County Florida needed a gun. He had a history of threating people over parking places—two instances of Drejka’s rage included him brandishing a gun. The target of his bile? People of color.

Markeis McGlockton had no gun. McGlockton was stepping up for his family. But Drejka had a gun, and as McGlockton backed away, Drejka fatally shot him in cold blood. The exchange was only four seconds.

"He had to shoot to defend himself," Pinellas county sheriff Bob Gualtieri said of Drejka. "And those are the facts, and that's the law." Gualtieri spoke for more 30 minutes in the immediate aftermath. Drejka wasn’t even arrested because according to Gualtieri, his hands were tied by the law.

There were parts of the press coverage that were cringe-worthy at best. For example, Gualtieri said a few times that Markeis had “skin in the game” because he shoved Drejka for badgering his girlfriend and two small kids, but added that “just because you can,[shoot someone] doesn’t mean you should.” What he didn’t say was Drejka’s response was clearly disproportionate to Markeis simply attempting to defend his family. (After charges were filed, Gualtieri said he agreed with the state attorney’s decision.)

They referred the case to the state prosecutor. Under new provisions in the SYG law in Florida, the state prosecutor is required to be a mind reader. Through some form of magical telepathy, the prosecutors must prove that the subjective beliefs of a man, known for being an abject asshole, a threat, and not a super great decision maker, were not reasonable.
Drejka has a good chance of going free. But at least he was charged. Believe it or not, that is progress.
The first thing I thought when I heard he had been (finally) charged was—wait, not murder? Then—wait, the judge set his bail at a paltry $100,000? (Don’t get me started about bail disparity between black and white defendants). Deep breath. This is a step forward. Manslaughter is a convictable crime. In a normal world this should be an easy win for prosecutors—Drejka’s history plus that video? Slam dunk. But that law, Markeis’ race. Drejka has a good chance of going free. But at least he was charged. Believe it or not, that is progress.

Other states have a more rational take on use of lethal force for self-defense. The laws are known generally as “duty to retreat” laws. Roughly these laws mean if you can get out of a potentially life-threatening situation safely it is your ‘duty’ to ‘retreat.’ But if you have to use force including deadly force to save your ass, then by all means do it.

Stand-your-ground laws are completely unnecessary. Original passage in Florida leveraged the case of an elderly man shooting an intruder in his home in the middle of the night. The septuagenarian was already covered by the “castle doctrine.” Meaning if someone busts into your home—your castle—at night you have the right to defend yourself from that intruder.

As I finish up this piece, I ask you to consider Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, 59, of Lakeland, Florida. He showed up late to the Orlando Airport and missed his flight. As a result, he went berserk. You have probably seen the video by now. Yelling, screaming, getting taken down by cops and ultimately pepper sprayed.

There are a couple of key things we can learn from Epstein. One is that white male privilege knows no bounds. Who else but a white guy has the temerity to lose his shit so spectacularly at an airport? Fear-free move by a man unencumbered by pigment or lady bits. Thank god he wasn’t a woman in hijab.

Then, Epstein screamed, “Oh my god! They are treating me like a fucking black person!” of the officers trying to contain his hailstorm of rage and expletives. Eschewing deeper analysis of this loaded phrase, it does illustrate the ultimate of white male privilege and the luxury of willful ignorance. Because the truth is if Epstein was really being treated like a black person by cops there is a good chance he would be dead.

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