Immediately following Rev. Al Sharpton’s visit to Clearwater, the Tampa Bay Times scripted an editorial calling Rev. Al Sharpton wrong for calling for Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s badge as a result of his failure to arrest Michael Drejka for the arrest of Markeis McGlockton.
As the top cop in Pinellas County, this was Gualtieri’s call to make. There has been minimal local criticism of his decision, and even the head of the Upper Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance urged participants attending the July 29 rally to not blame anyone, a comment that was repeated several times and one that caused concern by many attending.
The repeated calls not to blame anyone generated sidebars that led to comments such as: “As usual, we are more concerned about offending a white man as opposed to seeking justice for Markeis McGlockton.”
Regardless of the sidebars, all participants adhered to the pastor’s plea for civility without naming names. However, one week later when the Rev. Al Sharpton descended upon Clearwater, and he came as he historically does to bring national attention to another travesty of justice that has once again plagued the black community. Why would Clearwater be any different?
In addition to calling for Drejka’s arrest and the repeal of the stand your ground law, Sharpton called for Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s badge for refusing to make an arrest. Sheriff Gualitieri is a constitutional officer elected by the Pinellas County voters. It is apparent that Sharpton was making a plea to the voters to fire Gualtieri.
There is nothing unusual about that during times when emotions are running high and there has been a loss of life. Taking a couple of pages from the Jim Crow era, the Tampa Bay Times thought it appropriate to put Rev. Sharpton in his place by calling him out by stating he was “wrong” to question Gualtieri’s motives.
The Times’ criticism continued by suggesting that Sharpton should have checked with Senator Darryl Rouson, Commissioner Ken Welch and School Board member Rene Flowers, “the most influential African Americans” prior to making his comments. It gets better. They then quoted the three as saying they would not call for Gualtieri’s badge because they knew him and he was fair and firm.
Sheriff Gualitieri has some big shoulders. He doesn’t need or should not expect leaders in the African-American community to justify his character. He made a decision based on his interpretation of the law and it is that interpretation alone that he must hold onto, right, wrong or indifferent, not the nod of influential African-American leaders.
The McGlockton family lost a son, a father, a grandson, a cousin and a friend within seconds of taking his five-year-old son into a local store to buy candy. Rev. Sharpton was invited into Clearwater by the McGlockton family through their attorneys. I am certain that this family like all of the other hundreds of black families whose sons and daughters have been gun downed are seeking justice by any means necessary within the framework of the law.
I am certain that if the shoes were on the other feet, and Rouson’s, Welch’s or Flowers’ sons and daughters had been murdered and their murderers were not incarcerated, they too would have called for Gualtieri’s badge and anybody else’s job that they may have felt took part in the loss of their children. That is what grieving people do!
What was wrong following Rev. Sharpton’s visit was for the Times to use Jim Crow tactics by hurling insults at a well-respected African-American civil rights leader, regardless of what they think of him personally and for the sheriff to chime in urging him to go back home.
These actions were disrespectful to the African-American community, and even more so disrespectful and insensitive to the McGlockton family and their efforts to seek justice for their son’s murder!
Maria L. Scruggs, President
St. Petersburg Branch NAACP