Stand Your Ground And Self-Defense In Florida

Anger over deaths caused by guns is boiling in Florida this summer. And controversy over the “stand your ground” legal principle in the state’s self-defense law is reaching a frenzy.

Please, let’s all take a deep breath, step back, and think about this slowly and carefully. It’s important for us to get the issues and facts straight. Fortunately, the Tampa Bay Times has published on each of the past two days excellent front-page news reports regarding the shooting death at a convenience store in Clearwater and the resulting controversy.

I recommend that everyone read the following two stories from start to finish. Not just the front page but the jump to an inside page. The stories are available on the Times website.

STORY ONE –“IN STAND YOUR GROUND CASES, DOES IT MATTER WHO STARTED IT?” With the secondary headline, “Not when the provocation is verbal, experts say, as the McGlockton case may show.” By Kathryn Varn, Tampa Bay Times, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, starting on the front page and continuing on page 4A. Importantly, the Times also published on the front page four large time-lapse photos that show quite clearly what happened outside the convenience store. Those photos may be the most important evidence in the case. They were provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s  Office. Clearwater is a city in Pinellas County. Many additional photos are on page 4A.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has a law degree, has investigated the shooting death at the convenience store, and he is one of the people at the center of the controversy because he has declined to arrest the shooter, citing the stand-your-ground principal of Florida law. The case is not closed however, because the sheriff has forwarded the case to the state attorney, who has the final decision on whether to charge the shooter and prosecute the case.

STORY TWO — ” ‘Lock him up, or give up your badge’ ” With the secondary headline, “Marchers, candidates and civil rights activists call for an arrest in a store shooting and the repeal of the state’s stand your ground law.” By Tracey McManus and Langston Taylor, Tampa Bay Times, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, starting on the front page and continuing on page 8A. The Times also published on the front page a large photo including the Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump at a Baptist church service Sunday afternoon. All five Democratic candidates for Florida governor in the November election and one candidate for state attorney general attended the church service and spoke from the pulpit, according to the news story. It said about 400 people filled the church and an additional 300 demonstrated outside.

Also on the front page is a photo of Markeis McGlockton, the black man who died from the gunshot. Also, a photo of protesters marching in Clearwater to demand justice for the deceased man. Notably, the protest-march photo shows numerous signs with the words: “MICHAEL DREJKA: THE PEOPLE SAY GUILTY.” Michael Drejka is the white man who fired the fatal shot at the convenience store. On page 8A is a photo of Crump holding Mr. McGlockton’s five-year-old son as Crump speaks at the  protest rally.

I believe that the above two news reports, taken together, and the accompanying photos, provide a comprehensive overview of the facts and issues. If the Tampa Bay Times continues such comprehensive coverage of the controversy, I believe the stories taken together might earn the paper a Pulitzer Prize.

I have to study the reports carefully, and still I have difficulty understanding the fine lines drawn around the right of self-defense.

— John Hayden

 

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10 thoughts on “Stand Your Ground And Self-Defense In Florida

  1. What I find most disturbing is how the issue of race plays out here. Let’s construct a decision grid on how the press and the public respond:

    Shooter Victim..Response

    White…Non-white…Big Deal
    Non-white.. White…Some press.
    White…White…Little press.
    Non-white…Non-white…almost no press at all.

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    • You are absolutely correct. Stand your ground and self-defense would be primarily legal issues provoking little public interest or controversy, except for racial tensions in our country, which seem to be especially high in Florida. If both shooter and deceased had been white, or if both had been black, this story would have been no more than a three paragraph report on inside page, and might have been overlooked entirely. We all need to take a step back from this controversy and be cool.

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  2. I really can’t say anything about the racial issue, because I don’t know your country well enough, and I’m not going to depend on stereotypes. On the whole, I have great sympathy with ‘stand your ground’ law from what I read about it in the articles you suggested, but it seems to me that even with that law, there was plenty of reason for an arrest and a trial. A trial would have determined whether the man who was knocked down had a legitimate right to defend himself, or whether it was a case of revenge because of being knocked down. It doesn’t seem to me that escape was readily available, because if you’re knocked down to the floor, it is harder to escape. You really do leave yourself open to another attack. Thanks for sharing this.

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    • I think you are perfectly correct. The legal question for a trial would have been, did the man on the ground shoot to protect himself from further attack, or did he shoot for revenge. The problem is, it is very hard for a judge or a jury to get inside any person’s head at the time of a spontaneous, unexpected, violent incident, and know what the individual was thinking. This was not a premeditated or predictable incident. Based on the time-lapse photographic evidence, The entire incident happened within a span of 10 seconds — in that time the shooting victim exited the door of the store and moved quickly, walking or running past about four parking spaces and into the parking lot at the side of the store where he pushed the other man forcefully enough to make him fall to the ground; and then the man on the ground pulled out his gun and shot the man who had pushed him — all in 10 seconds! Defense attorney of course would argue that the shooter was undoubtedly shocked by the sudden attack and fall to the ground, may have been stunned or disoriented by the force of the push or as a result of the fall, was in a distinctly disadvantageous situation being on the ground with an attacker above him, therefore having obvious reason for fear, and that he felt he had to react immediately to protect himself. Little time to consider. It would have been BEST if the man on the ground had hesitated a second, shouted “Stop, get back,” and of course NOT pulled the trigger. If the man on the ground had been a trained police officer, he probably would have had the presence of mind to do exactly that and there would have been no death. Statistically, almost always just the sight of the gun is sufficient deterrent to make a person back off and often flee. But the man on the ground was not a trained police officer, just a 49-year-old citizen, having been attacked by a younger man. Virtually impossible for jury to decide if he fired out of fear or out of revenge. So, when there is reasonable evidence that the shooter might have had reason to fear, judge and jury often give the benefit of the doubt to the self-defense claim. I suppose this is the problem with so many untrained or poorly trained civilians walking around with concealed handguns, as is legal in Florida. This is the kind of thing that can happen when a person is in fear and possibly disoriented after an unexpected incident. Tragic all around!

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      • On the other hand, a few such encounters, and people in your state may be less inclined to get physical with others, unless there is a real reason.

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      • One would hope. Sadly, we have suffered a serious decline in social behavior and community standards. Americans are deeply divided along many lines. Public discourse is angry and uninformed. (For many reasons, including the collapse of the newspaper industry, the inflammatory effect of cable TV news and social media such as Twitter.) “Fake news” is rampant. Failure of leadership at many levels. No common agreement on anything, no listening to the other side. Ignorance of the facts is widespread. With all this, we do not seem able to learn anything from a “few such encounters.” We have more encounters, escalation!

        Regarding the self-defense issue, we have large numbers of undisciplined people walking around, mostly young men, both black and white, who have no regard for public courtesy or for other people. They believe they can do virtually whatever they want, without regard to the rights of others. That is, many young men who may spontaneously attack someone upon the slightest provocation, or for no discernible reason at all. They recognize few if any limits on their public behavior, and don’t understand the concept of “consequences” for their actions. And they are right, usually there are no consequences.

        In part, that is because there is another large group of law-abiding citizens who see the world as a fearful place, and believe it safe and expedient to never “get involved” and “look the other way.”

        And now, a large group of law-abiding citizens who are now paranoid enough or legitimately fearful enough that they have persuaded legislatures to liberalize regulations on the ownership and carrying of handguns.

        The result: A large group (like the young man who pushed the older man to the ground) that acts without restraint or concern for consequences; and another large group (like the older man with the legal handgun) who are in some cases nearly “scared to death” and therefore carry guns and believe they must be prepared to protect themselves and others at any time. And too often, the unrestrained violent ones interact with the fearful ones armed with handguns. And so, another shooting, and another, and another. And we haven’t even mentioned the mass shootings at schools and other places. It sometimes seems to be spiraling out of control.

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      • Thank you Shimon. For the record, I have never in my life owned a gun of any kind. I know that in Israel, you have lived for decades in fear, or at least in awareness, of military attack all around.

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  3. Easy access to guns helps an angry man shoot to kill a riled up guy in front of his family in a parking lot. This over a dispute about a handicapped parking space.

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    • That sums it up pretty well. Seems to me that “stand your ground“ is a distracting legal technicality. This is really about, first issue: Gun Control. Easy access to guns is part of the problem, but all these folks carrying guns around in public is a BIG problem. And the second issue is the right to self-defense, not the stand your ground technicality. The guns are the big drama, but an underlying social problem is all the people who feel they are free to ignore laws, such as a handicapped parking space, and such as walking up to a man in a parking lot and forcefully shoving him to the ground, which is, of course, assault. Resulting consequence of a man being shot is a tragedy that should never have happened. If only we could go back to the days when common courtesy was expected in public, and when civilians did not walk around carrying concealed handguns.

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