How to get away with murder in Florida: Stand Your Ground

Was Don Crandall trying to pick a fight and then use Florida’s “stand your ground” law as a defense?

white man at apartment complex

Flee if you can.

Surrender if you can’t.

But, if you decide to fight back, at least in Florida, beware. When victims fight back and get the upper hand, assailants don’t have to walk away with a few bruises and a lesson about who to mess with. They can legally kill you.

The state’s controversial “stand your ground” law has inadvertently given us the newest way to get away with murder in Florida. You can pick a fight then use deadly force if the victim fights back and you fear you are in imminent danger.

Sounds preposterous?

Consider the recent viral video on Twitter of Don Crandall, a white man,  holding a gun and using his body to prevent four young black men, students at Florida A & M University, from entering a student apartment complex. It’s obvious from watching the video that Crandall, who doesn’t live in the building either, was trying to pick a fight with the young men and hoping they would retaliate so he could stand his ground. Thankfully, the young men didn’t Crandall’s bait.

It’s happened before.

The 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman is proof, that in Florida, you can pick a fight then defend yourself using deadly force when the victim fights back. Zimmerman disregarded a 9-1-1 dispatcher’s order not to approach Martin, who had not been involved in any crime. Martin, after being stalked and then rushed by a strange man at night with no one around, did what any normal person would do. He couldn’t retreat, so he fought back. That’s when Zimmerman, who found himself on the losing end after starting the fight, shot the teen and then claimed it was in self-defense. Even though Martin didn’t have a weapon, in July 2013, a Florida jury found his shooting death was justified under the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Passed in 2005, the well-intended law was meant to give victims the power to fight back with deadly force without the duty to retreat if they fear their life is in jeopardy. But, Martin’s case and other recent cases highlights the law’s major flaw. It gives the aggressor or initiator of the conflict the right to use deadly force, assuming he fears for his life, if the victim fights back and get the upper hand.

Recently, lawmakers shifted the burden of proving a shooter didn’t act in self-defense to the state, making it even easier for someone looking to kill to pick a fight then claim self-defense when the victim fights back. It’s the newest way to get away with murder.

It happened again two months ago.

In July, Michael Drejka fatally shot 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot in Clearwater after McGlockton walked out the store and found Drejka arguing with Britany Jacobs, McGlockton’s girlfriend, over a handicap parking space. Jacobs and the couple’s five-year-old son had been sitting in the car waiting for McGlockton, when Drejka, who is not handicapped, spotted her parked in a handicap parking space. Drejka, 48, says he confronted Jacobs because he has a “pet peeve” about people illegally parking in handicap parking spaces. Video cameras outside the store captured McGlockton walking out the store, getting between Drejka and Jacobs, and then pushing Drejka to the ground. The video clearly shows McGlockton retreating when Drejka, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, pulls out a .40-caliber Glock handgun and shoots him in the left side. McGlockton died later at the hospital.

Initially, Drejka was not arrested or charged with McGlockton’s murder because he claimed he acted in self-defense under the “stand your ground” law.

“I followed the law the way I felt the law was supposed to be followed,” Drejka told a Tampa Bay news outlet. “I cleared every hurdle that that law had put in front of me.”

Pinellas County State Attorney Bernie McCabe saw it differently.

On August 13, with the burden now on the state to prove the shooting wasn’t in self-defense, McCabe filed a manslaughter charge against Drejka.

The law, as written, was supposed to protect victims, but somehow, it has allowed angry people, like Zimmerman and Drejka, to pick fights then use deadly force to protect themselves. Repealing the law would be a backwards step for victim rights. A simple fix would be to amend the law by adding a “non-aggressor” clause.

Until that happens, when someone picks a fight with you, beware of fighting back because, in Florida, fighting back can get you “legally” killed.

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Baptized in Spring Creek

I don’t remember the guest preacher’s name or the messages he delivered, but I’ll never forget the three-night revival he led at my Uncle Walter’s church.

New Mardrid Mississippi River baptism 09-03-1967          My grandfather’s brother, the Rev. Walter White, was pastor of Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church, which was down the street from my grandmother’s house. Because the church could be seen from the house and Uncle Walter always stopped by the house on his way to the church, my brothers and I rarely missed church on first and third Sundays. Uncle Walter pastored a church in Cross City on the second and fourth Sunday, so we were only required to attend at Sunday School and church service at Mt. Nebo on the first and third Sundays, Mt. Nebo’s once-a-month Sunday evening service, holiday services, and revivals.

            My brothers, cousins, and I weren’t looking forward to attending three nights of church service during the middle of the week. But, we had no choice.

            So, we moped down the street that first night.

            We sat twiddling our thumbs through the first part of the service, and we moaned and sighed when the service seemed to linger into the night.

            Then, my uncle introduced the preacher who was delivering the message for the night, and from his first word to his last, we clapped and shouted hallelujah like we’d never done.

            When we walked out the church that first night, we began counting down the hours until the next night’s service.

            Our grandmother didn’t have to tell us to get up and get dressed the next night, and by the time Uncle Walter came by to remind us, we were walking out the house heading to church.

            The second night’s service was just as spirited as the first.

            The third night, we were so moved by the preacher’s message that when asked who was ready to live for God, my brothers, cousins, and I all answered by joining the church.

            My uncle, who had been prodding us to join the church for a few years, was more than a little surprised. Our grandmother and my mother were even more surprised.

            The baptism date was set for the first Sunday of August, a little over a month later.

            During the next few weeks, my grandmother and aunts bought a bunch of white bed sheets then cut and sewed them into ten baptism robes.

            As the big day neared, the spirited joy I felt during the revival turned to fear of the unknown.

            My grandmother tried to calm my fears by giving me a new book of Bible stories and telling me, God loves you, but that did little to calm my fear of what creatures existed beneath the surface of Spring Creek at Folsom Park.

             When the first Sunday morning in August arrived, I stood in the middle of the line of about 16 children. I watched as Uncle Walter and one of the church deacons dipped each of the children in the water then said a blessing over them.

            Because none of the children in front of me came out of the water talking about the creature from the Black Lagoon, my fear disappeared when it came time for me to I step in the water. When I stepped out of the water into my mother’s arms, the spirit I felt during that three-night revival was all over me.

Every now and then, I wish I could step back inside Mt. Nebo M.B. Church, hear the message delivered from the preacher whose name I don’t remember, take a dip in the water at Folsom Park, then step into my mother’s arms and feel that feeling again.

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Addiction: The Killer Inside Our Homes

Davis Owen’s life ended way too soon. But, his story didn’t.

His story is still being told because of his mother’s story.

Her story is about a mother who lost a young son to drug addiction – a mother who turned her loss into a mission to save others.

It is a story of memories, of hindsight, and the unfathomable hurt and hopelessness of parents trying desperately to save their child.

It’s a story worth telling and retelling.

Davis Owen’s family describes him as a brilliant, beautiful, and compassionate child.

He was the oldest son of five children.

He was president of his senior class and an honor student at Kennesaw Mountain High School.

He entered Kennesaw State University upon graduation and made the Dean’s List his first semester.

Davis was the ideal son, but he was living a secret life after becoming addicted to opioid painkillers in his family’s medicine cabinet.

When Michael and Missy Owen found out ab out their son’s addiction, they did what most parents do. They tried to help him.

The Owens first realized the seriousness of the situation on Thanksgiving morning 2013.

“We were going to the family farm and Michael wanted to take the shotguns and teach the kids to shoot,” Missy Owen recalls. “My dad had left each of the grandsons a shotgun when he died and Michael was packing them up. When he opened the first case to check the gun, he found a BB gun instead and we knew immediately what had happened. Davis had pawned two of the three shotguns for money to buy drugs. He loved his “Papah” and would have never done that in a right state of mind. We eventually got the guns back, but we knew Davis had a real and severe problem. We all cried that day as he stood in the bedroom and asked us to help him.”

Davis Owen entered a drug rehabilitation program.

That didn’t help.

With no job and no access to the prescription pain medications, Davis turned to a more readily available opioid – heroin.

Davis was living with his parents when on the evening of March 4, 2014, the doorbell rang. The Owens opened the door and a detective told them something that would change their lives forever.

Their 20-year-old son had been found dead in his car with a needle and heroin beside him.

After Davis’ death, his mother did something she had not been able to do while he was alive.

“When you’re living with a child who has an addiction, you’re so worried, always trying to chase that child that you don’t have time to research and learn how to help your child,” Missy Owen says. “What I did was write a book, “Heroin is Killing Our Children,” and put in that book 365 days of things that I learned about heroin, opioids, and drug addiction. I researched every day for a year. And I put in there everything that I thought would help somebody save their child.”

Topping the list of things she learned was “clean out your medicine cabinets” to prevent access to prescription medications that can begin the path to addiction and death.

Today, Missy Owen heads a foundation she started in honor of Davis, the Davis Direction Foundation, a community and national resource for opioid and heroin addiction and recovery.

I never met Davis, but his mother has made sure I’ll never forget his story.

 

The Long Journey of “The Long Goodbye”

Vanessa Bell Calloway - National Black Theatre Festival       

            It was a long time coming.
            From the day I first came up with the idea for a new stage play back in 1985, the play’s title, story, and format have undergone a series of changes.
            The initial spark for the stage play was my love for Hollywood legend Bette Davis. I wanted to write a play about an older lady who was fascinated by her resemblance to Bette Davis. But then, my Aunt Ann passed suddenly and unexpectedly early Christmas morning in 1985, and her death sparked another idea – a play about a mother dealing with the loss of her daughter one Christmas morning. I made the original Bette Davis character a friend of the new lead, Mrs. Pet.
            However, when I started writing the stage play, a voice in my head kept saying, “This should be a screenplay.”
            So, I changed the format from a stage play to a screenplay.
            Then there was the title.
            Keeping the Faith was the title I chose when I began writing the screenplay.
            A few life events – a move to Tampa and then Detroit – and switching gears to write another script and a novella, slowed the screenplay’s progress.
            By the time, I finished the screenplay in 1991, I had changed the name to This Far by Faith.
            I began developing the screenplay into a film project with a producer/director partner, Carlesa Williams, of Jam Session Films in Detroit. Things were moving slow on this, so I eventually put the project on the shelf and returned to the Sunshine State and the University of Florida to get a degree in journalism.
            After a brief stay in New York City for a reporting internship with CBS News, and after earning my journalism degree and enrolling in graduate school at UF, I was pulled home to care for my mother, who had become disabled.
            Over the next several years, I wrote and self-published two novels and wrote a couple of screenplays. One day, I decided to pull This Far By Faith off the shelf and dust it off because the story – a dramatic comedy about a mother living in denial after the loss of her daughter – was still one of my favorites.
            That’s when the screenplay became The Long Goodbye.
            When I was done rewriting the screenplay, I sent it over to my agent/manager for his review. That was in 2015.
            He loved the screenplay and begin pitching it to a few producers and executives. It seemed they all loved the screenplay, but wasn’t sure how it would go over because “it wasn’t your typical ‘Black’ story.”
            Frustrated with this, and because I really wanted this story to be told, I decided to turn the screenplay into a stage play that I could produce myself.
            I completed this task last year after my first full-length stage play, Calming the Man, was starting to receive some attention and recognition.
            In April, I submitted the stage play The Long Goodbye, which no one else had read, to the National Black Theatre Festival Readers Theatre of New Works. I didn’t expect much, so I was surprised when the play was accepted to the “A List,” which is the best of the best new plays.
            A few weeks later, I asked one of my favorite actresses, Vanessa Bell Calloway, who starred in What’s Love Got to Do With ItComing to America, and a host of other films, if she would read the lead role of Mrs. Pet at the festival. To my surprise, she said yes.
            Last week, the story that began as a tribute to Bette Davis then became a tribute to my Aunt Ann, was finally performed before an audience with Vanessa Bell Calloway, and two of my hometown talents, Hope Demps and Tony Lang, at the National Black Theatre Festival.
            As I watched the performance, I couldn’t help thinking about the play’s long, long journey.
            It was a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait.
Note: Calming the Man, will be read with actor Lance Reddick in the lead, at the 4th Annual Leimert Park Theatre Festival in Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 3, 5:00 pm at the Barbara Mason Performing Arts Center. For more information, contact Anthony Lamarr at anthonylamarwhite@yahoo.com.

Fruitcakes and Silver Icicles

silver-iciclesSilver icicles.

            The first time I broke away from my grandmother’s Christmas traditions was the year I got rid of the silver icicles on our Christmas tree.
            My grandmother believed that traditions help make holidays special. This was most apparent when it came to her Christmas traditions.
            She had to have a Christmas fruitcake that had to be made before the first of December so it could age properly.
            Even though the same items could be found in local stores, she had to order at least one thing from the Sears Christmas catalog.
            And she had to have a Christmas tree covered in silver icicles.
            As long as these three traditions weren’t broken, we had a merry Christmas.
            When I was old enough to stand in a chair, I watched her make her fruitcake, wrap it and place it in a holiday-themed cake tin, then open the tin every few days and sprinkle the cake with brandy.
            By the time I was ten, she had taught me how to fill out catalog forms and call customer service numbers to place her Christmas orders.
            And as far back as I can remember, I decorated our Christmas tree as she sat in a chair directing.
            When my grandmother moved into a new house in 1988, she started a new tradition. Instead of directing me how to put up the Christmas tree, she told me the task was all mine. I was excited for about fifteen seconds.
            “You can decorate the tree by yourself this year,” she informed me.
            “Really?” I asked, trying not to let my excitement show.
            “It’s all yours,” she replied. “But, you’re going to have to get a new tree, new lights, bulbs, a star, and icicles.”
            I knew what that meant. The task was all mine, but she still wanted her tree done her way.
            I was moseying through a store gathering the items for my grandmother’s Christmas tree when I suddenly felt the urge to rebel, to break with tradition. I asked myself what she would do if I changed things up a little. Throw the tree out on the trash pile? And me with it?
           “She might,” my good sense answered.
            But I didn’t listen.
            That evening, my grandmother sat in her chair and watched as I put up the tree. She nodded pleasingly as I draped the lights around the tree. She said how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. When I took the red bows out of the bag, she asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
            “Hang them on the tree,” I answered.
            “I don’t think those will look good with icicles,” she said.
            “I didn’t think so either,” I responded. “That’s why I didn’t get any icicles.”
            My grandmother tried to hide her frown, but it was hard to hide a frown that covered her entire body.
            When I was done placing the bows over the tree and placing the star on top, my grandmother’s frown turned upside into a smile.
            And we all had a merry Christmas.
            Last year, I broke the Christmas tree tradition again.
            Out went yesteryears glistening ornaments and colorful ribbons and bows. In came fall foliage and white doves.
            As I put up the tree, I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder to see if my grandmother was sitting in the chair watching.
            If she had been, I’m sure she looked over the rims of her glasses and wondered when they started making pre-lit tree. I thought I heard her say how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. And when I reached in the box and took out the brown, yellow, orange, red, silver, and gold leaves and then the white doves, I know she frowned and asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
           When I was done placing the foliage and doves over the tree and placing the star on top, her  frown couldn’t help turning upside into a smile.
            And it turned out to be a merry Christmas.