Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has taken a lot of heat for not arresting Michael Drejka after his parking lot shooting of Markeis McGlockton. In one of his press conferences about the issue, he labeled McGlockton’s shove on Drejka as “violent” and told Al Sharpton to “go back to New York.” For his part, Sharpton told Gualtieri to “lock him up or give up your badge.”
Gualtieri himself is a white Republican, and certainly doesn’t sound like someone who is against Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. But consider this: what if Gualtieri had arrested Drejka on the day of the shooting? What would he have charged him with? He likely would have charged him with second degree murder, which wouldn’t have been an inappropriate charge in the circumstances.
Now, consider what would have happened in terms of media coverage. The arrest would been treated like any run-of-the-mill murder. The national media would not have covered it; Al Sharpton would never have gone to Pinellas County, and the family of the dead man would have quietly hoped for justice. In short, the only people who would have been fired up would have been the Stand Your Ground supporters. The case would have gone to court, the state would have faced the burden of proving second degree murder against the Stand Your Ground law, and there would have been a real chance of Drejka being acquitted. And if that had happened, the chance of the McGlockton family getting justice would have sailed away by the time the media got around to covering it.
By not arresting Drejka and referring the case to the state attorney’s office, Gualtieri did two things that substantially helped the case against Drejka and even undermined the Stand Your Ground law. First of all, he drew public attention to it. Many folks who watched the video of Drejka firing into McGlockton’s chest would find it shocking that it was not a criminal act of some sort. In doing nothing, Gualtieri drew media attention to the act right away.
Secondly, in addition to media attention, Gualtieri allowed the state attorneys to come up with the charges that had the best chance of winning in court, thus giving the McGlockton family the best chance for justice. Of course, the argument can be made that Gualtieri could have arrested him anyway and then let the state attorneys re-indict him for the manslaughter charge, but this is where the nuance of prior media attention comes in. If he had arrested him right away there would have been no national coverage, no protests, and no discussion.
In this case, if the state attorneys reduced charges, there would have been only a minor media outcry, and there likely wouldn’t have been any protests, or at least none to the extent that have happened. The Stand Your Ground law would have been reinforced regardless of whether Drejka was convicted or not. Gualtieri would have won points from the public and media for arresting him, but the state attorneys would have lost some face, and ultimately the momentum would have rested both with Drejka and Stand Your Ground. Finally, even if Drejka were convicted of manslaughter in this scenario, it wouldn’t have undermined Stand Your Ground. People would have watched the video and thought it was a crime; they wouldn’t have made the distinction of how it was relevant to Stand Your Ground.
When Gualtieri did nothing, people freaked out. As a result, the momentum in this case lies with the victims. Not only has Drejka been charged in the way to get the best possible justice, but people are starting to realize that Stand Your Ground could be flawed, and more to the point, that Stand Your Ground is enabling fringe actors to essentially get away with murder. And thus, inadvertently or not, Gualtieri may have done more to help the movement against Stand Your Ground and get justice for McGlockton than he could have done by arresting Drejka at the scene.