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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What I Hear Them Saying

black-hoodies

Look at him.

Young, black, and going nowhere.

Stop… and really look at him.

He thinks that he is invisible, that nobody really sees him.

But look again.

There is an angry man inside of him, and maybe the angry man is to blame for the violence that makes society see him as a menace instead of a man.

If you look, really look, you’ll see that his anger is inherent. He began life as the son of an angry, broken black man or the son of a black man who was missing from his life. Poverty and hopelessness made him angrier. And then racism and discrimination turned anger into rage.

Now, look at him.

Who do you see? What do you see?

Do you see him? Do you see the violence, the guns, and the bloodshed? Or could it be that in your eyes, black males and violence are synonymous – one and the same?

He sees himself through your eyes. So, the answers to those questions – who and what you see – have defined who he is and how he sees himself.

He knows who he is. He is a son. A brother. A friend. He is uniquely different. A promise yet to be fulfilled. But, that is not who he sees.

He knows the reality of life for young, black men like him is incarceration and early death, so he sees himself the way you see him – as a statistic.

He knows that murder is the number one cause of death for young black men between the ages of 15 and 34. In fact, young, black males are ten times more likely to die by homicide than white males in the same age group.

He knows that nearly 40 percent of all African Americans who died between the ages of 15 and 34 were victims of homicide, which makes him wonder how society would view this statistic if 40 percent of all white Americans who died between the ages of 15 and 34 were murdered.

He knows that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in his lifetime and that African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than white Americans. He knows the statistics and what they mean. Young, black men are targets.

He has not learned to see himself as someone with a future. He has not learned to dream. Nor live.

Look at him.

Who do you see now?

There is an angry man inside him.

Look at him.

This young, black man wants to beat the statistics. He wants to live. So, he’s searching for a way to calm the angry man inside him – searching for a way to get rid of the inherent anger and the anger borne from years of living in a world that does not see him.

But, because he lives in a society where young, black men are targets, he’s always ready. Strapped and waiting for another angry man to ignite the gunfire.

The Story Behind The Picture

Joe Lous and Ali pic0001On the cusps of Greatness

If a picture is really worth a thousand words, then here is an old black and white photo with a story to tell.

It is a story about two men on a summer day in 1966. Both are boxers. One is the world’s heavyweight boxing champion. The other has only recently turned pro.

Both men are in their mid-twenties and both are facing a future that, strangely, they both have already imagined. One will go on to become larger than life, while the other will heed the call of his life back home and give up on his dream of one day stepping in the ring with the man standing next to him.

For one of the men, the story the old black and white photo tells is about a moment that, even without the photo, is indelibly etched in his memory. Because, in the picture, he is shaking hands with and listening to career advice from the boxer who inspired him to dream and, at the same time, he is realizing the sacrifices he will have to make to chase that dream.

The photo captured Perry native, Joe Louis White, at a crossroads in his life.

“I was in Miami preparing to fight a former top 10 boxer, Willie Besmanoff,” White recalls. “My manager knew Cassius Clay’s manager, Angelo Dundee, and they arranged for us to meet at the famous Fifth Street Gym where Clay was training for an upcoming fight.”

White had only eight professional bouts under his belt when he met Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali. When the two met, White says he told Ali he was hoping to become the world heavyweight champion soon and Ali responded, “You’re going to have to work your way up to me. There’s a ladder you’re going to have to climb.”

And White knew climbing that ladder meant making sacrifices not just for himself but also for his children and family back home. It also meant he had to climb fast because having come into the sport after the age of 20, the window of opportunity would be closing for him in a few short years.

White’s journey into the sport of boxing began after he’d been in the military. He was living in Clearwater when he met a group of guys who were boxers and began training with them. A year or so later, he returned to Perry and really began training.

“I opened a training gym in the building that is now the Foxtrot Beauty Salon when I came home,” he reflects. “My first match took place on the outdoor basketball court at Jerkins High School around 1961. That’s where Perry Chief of Police George Rich saw me and became my first manager. He took me to Macon, Georgia to fight the Georgia State champion. I won by a technical knockout in the first round. I caught the guy with a right to the forehead and it caused a big gash. They stopped the fight because he couldn’t continue.”

Rich not only managed White’s early boxing career, he also made him Perry’s first African-American police officer, a career move that only lasted two days.

“Chief Rich thought I was tough, so he hired me to be the first Black police officer in Perry. He told me the county had already hired its first Black deputy and he wanted to bring on a Black policeman,” White elaborates. “He gave me a police uniform and I wore it for maybe one day. I took it off and told him I wanted to keep boxing and pursue a boxing career. That’s when he hired Otis Williams, who you can say was the first official Black policeman in Perry because I only did it for a day or two.”

Later, White would be managed by the man who owned the bowling alley in downtown Perry during the 1960s. Under his guidance, White turned professional, a move that eventually resulted in the old black and white photo which has yet another story to tell. The story behind the stare down.

“There is no story behind the stare down,” White laughs. “We didn’t really spar. We were both in training sessions, so all we did was put on the gloves and play around in the ring for a few minutes. I was a rookie so it wasn’t really sparring. He just basically let me knew what it took to get to the top. And, he was the top.”

”No,…” he quickly answers when asked if he managed to land a lick during their playing around. “Clay was really floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee in them days.”

White never became the professional champion he set out to become, but he couldn’t just walk away from the sport he’d grown to love.

“When my career ended, I began training several local young men,” White says. “And, over the years, I opened a few boxing and training gyms here in town.” Other locations included the Bellamy produce building next to Gilman’s on Highway 19 and the old Seminole Restaurant and the building next to it in Brooklyn. White even put on and promoted boxing events around town in venues like the Forest Capital Hall.

Today, White says he’s still a fighter, but now, he’s fighting for Jesus. Through his 11-year-old prison outreach ministry, he visits jails and prisons and ministers to inmates in Taylor, Madison, Lafayette, Suwannee, and Gadsden County.

“I’m still fighting, but now I’m fighting for everyone whose lost and don’t know the Lord,” he says. “Everywhere I go, I run into people I’ve met while they were locked up and they tell me how my faith in them helped change the direction of their life.”

“That photo was my life then. This is my life now.” Then he stares down at the photo and fondly reminisces, “That was the day.”

A day an old black and white photo will make sure he never forgets.

Three Facts All First-Graders Needed to Know in 1970

facts are facts photoFacts Are Still Facts

One plus one always equals two.

A precedes B.

And, people are the same regardless of their skin color.

My mother armed me with these three facts all first graders should know then stuffed a slip of paper with our phone number on it in my pocket before sending me off to my first day of school at Perry Primary. I was five going on six, but even then, I doubted whether all my mom’s so-called facts were indeed proven truths or just aspirations she wanted me to believe.

The year was 1970, and although my mother tried not to show it, she was more than a little nervous about sending her firstborn to the “white” school. She had grown up during the “separate but equal” era and received her elementary and high school education at the “black” school, Jerkins School. So, on one hand she was ecstatic about the opportunities that a real “equal” education presented for me, but on the other, she was terrified about sending me to a place where she had not been welcomed.

At the time, I didn’t understand why she doled out the first two facts: One plus one always equals two, and A precedes B.  My kindergarten teacher had already taught me the 26 letters of the alphabet and how to combine them to make simple words. And I had learned to count and add up to 25 cents by buying penny cookies and freeze cups.

What I didn’t know then, was the first two facts were simply her effort to disguise the other fact as something a first-grader needed to know. And her apprehension was because she believed facts only applied in a perfect world. And for parents like my mother, the first week of school in Taylor County and in many other towns and cities that year was anything but perfect.

Even though I was going to first grade, my mother was afraid there might be riots at the school. Shoving over the see-saw. Rumbles in the sandbox. Spitball fights. For sure. But riots? It seems ludicrous now to think that a race riot would break out at a primary school, but try telling that to the parents of kindergarteners and first-graders back then.

My mother spent weeks preparing me for the transition from an all-Black school to an integrated one by reiterating the three facts all first graders should know, and in the process her anxiety rubbed off on me.

When my bus pulled into Perry Primary on the first day of school, I was the last child off. At the end of the school day, I was the first one back on the bus, but it wasn’t because my mother’s fears had come to pass.

My mother was waiting on pins and needles at the bus stop.

“How was your first day?” she nervously asked as soon as I stepped off the bus.

She was a little surprised when I told her, “I had fun.”

As we walked to the house, she asked what I had learned at school and I replied, “White children are nice too.”

My mother never did let me forget what I told her I learned on that first day of school. And I never let myself forget the real lesson of that day.

It wasn’t, one plus one always equals two.

A precedes B.

Or, people are the same regardless of their skin color.

It was realizing that facts are still facts even in an imperfect world.