Michael Drejka, ‘Teen Mom’ and the cost of white fear
Recent incidents show whites brandishing and firing weapons without consequences
In the shadow of alliteratively named white people — BBQ Becky, Permit Patty, Coupon Carl, among others — calling the police on black Americans for performing normal tasks such as barbecuing or selling water, there also have been increasing reports of white people whose privileged fear has granted them policing powers not afforded to black and brown people.
We saw an example of this on Monday’s episode of the MTV reality television series Teen Moms 2. Cast member Jenelle Evans, 26, was involved in a road rage incident in which the driver of a white pickup allegedly tailgated Evans, whose 8-year-old son was in the passenger seat, before speeding around her and slamming on his brakes, an apparent retaliation for driving too slowly. The episode, which was filmed in Brunswick County, North Carolina, in April, proceeds to show Evans following the man to his home and retrieving a small firearm from a side compartment of her vehicle. Evans, who is white, argues with the man from inside her car and accidentally backs into his mailbox. The man, whose face is never shown, blocks her in with his truck, striking her vehicle in the process. The screen goes black and text appears: “At this point, Jenelle pulled out her firearm.” When Evans is later pulled over by a highway patrolman, she cries and tells the officer she was “scared.”
Just days before the broadcast, a white man named Michael Drejka shot and killed a 28-year-old black man, Markeis McGlockton, after McGlockton pushed Drejka to the ground following an incident in a convenience store parking lot in Clearwater, Florida. Drejka had been arguing with McGlockton’s girlfriend over the couple’s use of handicapped-accessible parking when McGlockton came out of the store. After the shove, Drejka reached into his pants and pulled out a firearm and, as McGlockton backed away, shot the man in his chest. McGlockton later died at an area hospital.
How did law enforcement respond? TMZ reported that neither Evans nor the man in the pickup truck, who was also armed, was arrested. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it did not charge or arrest Drejka because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force if they reasonably believe they are in danger.
While the circumstances differ, both cases illustrate a unique right afforded to white people: They can seek out violent altercations and then hide behind their fear to avoid facing any formal consequences.
It’s difficult to imagine a black person avoiding arrest and prosecution for following someone to his home, instigating an argument, drawing a weapon and destroying property as Evans did, or for killing a person in broad daylight after an argument over a parking permit as Drejka did.
This is because, in America, white people’s fear is met with urgency, leniency and compassion. They’re allowed, even encouraged, to be afraid. Black people are only frightening. Be it at a Starbucks, swimming pool or (in the case of Darren Martin, a former staffer for President Barack Obama) in their own homes, black people are viewed as a nuisance. Even when white people actively put themselves in harm’s way, as Evans and Drejka did, they’re allowed by law enforcement to fear for their lives. Black people, on the other hand, aren’t allowed to keep theirs.
When black people are afraid, they are further abused by agents of the state. Diamond Reynolds was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car with her 4-year-old daughter after the fatal shooting of her boyfriend, Philando Castile. Tajai Rice, the 14-year-old sister of slain 12-year-old Tamir Rice, was pushed to the ground, handcuffed and placed in a patrol car while her brother lay dying on the ground.
This coddling of white welfare and disdain for black safety by law enforcement manifests in how neighborhoods are protected and served. As comedian Dave Chappelle jokes in his 2000 standup special Killin’ Them Softly, when black people call the police, law enforcement tends to believe they are the perps; just “sprinkle some crack.” But most comedy is rooted in truth: There’s a long-held shared understanding among black people that the police don’t respond to emergency calls that originate from predominantly black neighborhoods. Data obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois found that African-American and Latino neighborhoods waited twice as long, in some neighborhoods more than 10 minutes on average, for a police officer to be dispatched. In 1996, The Washington Post found that predominantly black neighborhoods would have to wait up to eight hours for police to respond to “non-life-threatening” emergencies, and this week, the Post found that of all racial groups, black homicide victims were the least likely to “have their killings result in an arrest.”
When civil rights activists chant, “Black lives matter,” this is what they mean. It’s not about black lives mattering more than others. It’s black lives wanting to matter, period. Trayvon Martin’s body didn’t matter to George Zimmerman when the neighborhood watch volunteer stalked and murdered the Florida teenager in 2012, and his body didn’t matter to the Sanford Police Department when it let Zimmerman walk free based on the “Stand Your Ground” law. That same law didn’t protect Marissa Alexander, a black woman sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2010 for firing a “warning shot” at her allegedly abusive husband in her Jacksonville, Florida, home. (Alexander’s conviction was later overturned.)
The privilege of being white, afraid and a legal firearm carrier comes at a cost, though, for black people. It means civilians get to act as unseasoned Batmen, patrolling the streets for black law-breakers. Police can act on their racial prejudices in the line of duty, which can be the difference between Laquan McDonald, who held a knife at his side, being shot 16 times and John Lee Cowell, who allegedly fatally stabbed a black woman, Nia Wilson, at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station on Sunday being apprehended without incident.
This comes at a time when blacks overwhelmingly prefer a society with fewer guns. A 2017 Pew Research study found that 73 percent of African-Americans believe gun control is more important than protecting the rights of Americans to own guns, compared with just 42 percent of whites. Yet, it is now easier to obtain and use a firearm: On Tuesday a federal appeals court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to openly carry a gun, and starting Aug. 1, Americans will be allowed to make and use 3-D-printed guns.
Evans and Drejka both instigated confrontations with their victims. For those crimes, neither was arrested or charged with a crime. In the eyes of the law, fear gives white people the right to threaten death and to carry it out. In the eyes of the law, that’s their privilege.