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 Handwritten Letter in the Mailbox

mailbox photo How long has it been since you opened the mailbox and saw a handwritten letter from a family member, friend, or someone you used to know?

It seems the art of writing letters has disappeared. And oh how I miss it!

Rushing to the mailbox and finding a letter from an out-of-town relative, one of the 4-H friends I had scattered across the country, or a local friend who had moved away, was the highlight of many of my childhood days.

My grandmother was a letter writer, so there was always stationery, pens, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps at our house. Because my grandmother loved writing letters, she loved nice stationery. Even if the stationery didn’t have a pretty design or pretty color, if it was plain, then it had to be on fancy paper.

The most anticipated letters, the ones we waited for our grandmother to receive and then read to us, were the ones from her mother.

My brothers, cousins, and I were entranced by our great-grandmother for a number of reasons.

She wasn’t a medical doctor, but her title was Dr. Berthenia Horne, which was clearly stated on the pre-printed return address label.

She was part of the National Baptist Convention, so she traveled the world through her Christian ministry and mailed us pictures from nearly everywhere she went. One of my all-time favorite pictures is a picture of her kneeling at the monumental site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. I still have that picture and I pull it out for display every Christmas season.

As soon as I was old enough to write, my grandmother started including letters I wrote in the letters she wrote to her mother. As I grew older, I began writing and mailing my own letters, which started a letter-writing correspondence that lasted until my great-grandmother’s death in 1998.

I have this same type of long-time correspondence via handwritten letters with a few others.

My brother, Tony, and I have written back and forth since I first left home for college in August 1982. Our correspondence via letters continues to this day.

My brother, Ken, wasn’t too big on writing letters, so I still have the one letter that I can remember him writing me.

I also have a letter my uncle, Archie Thomas, wrote me when he was doing a tour of Iraq during Desert Storm in 1991. I was living in Detroit at the time, and my grandmother had requested that everyone in the family write my uncle. So, I did. I was overjoyed when I received his handwritten response.

The number of handwritten letters I get in the mail has the decreased over the years. This year, I’ve only received two, and both were from my brother, Tony.

Email, social media, and cell phones have all contributed to the decline in writing letters. Now, instead of grabbing a piece of paper, a pen, an envelope, and a stamp, people just log onto their electronic device, press a few keys, and the message is sent and received in a matter of seconds.
I don’t have a problem with technology. I use it every day, nearly all day because it’s faster and more convenient.
But ten years from now, when reminiscing about family members and old friends, nothing compares to being able to hold a letter that they took the time to write, place in an envelope, and mail to you. It may have taken a few days to receive it, but the memory of having received it, will last forever.