In early August of last year, I was invited to a press conference at a church in Clearwater, FL. Due to my lack of sense of direction, I arrived late. I parked in the near empty parking lot and passed by news crews whom were packing up their equipment and leaving the location. I finally found the entrance to the church where my friend stood inside speaking to another woman. Quickly I apologized to her for my tardiness. She said, “It’s okay I want you to meet someone. Toya, this is Britany, the mother of Markeis’ children.”
Immediately a feeling of grief came over me. All too often we see the mothers, girlfriends, or wives of slain black men on TV and feel a degree of separation from them because their loss is not directly our own and it is being communicated to us through a medium (a television screen, a Facebook post, or a news article). However, in that moment no medium acted as a barrier. There was someone right in front of me, standing in the flesh, who had experienced a loss that had become widely televised. I asked her if I could hug her and she embraced me. Sorry for your loss, didn’t feel like much of anything.
I took a seat at one of the tables in the distance in order to give my friend and Britany some privacy. I looked on, as my friend embraced Britney as she started to cry. When Britany left the room, my friend turned from the door and yelled out, “I hate seeing black mothers crying!”
Her words left an impression on me because shouldn’t we all be tired? This had become not a new, but a normalized occurrence in America. A son slain in their own apartment; a daughter found dead after a routine traffic stop, a father chokehold to death for selling cigarettes to make some extra money to support his family.
All too often Black bodies in America become the target of white rage, white supremacy, and ultimately violence.
What has continued to be consistent throughout history is that in the wake of racially charged tragedy in our community black women have never hesitated to be amongst the first to lead in the fight for justice.
Florida based attorney, Michele Rayner-Goolsby, is no different.
July of last summer Rayner-Goolsby immediately went to work to bring awareness about the unjust murder of Markeis McGlockton, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by Michael Drejka, a white man, over a handicap parking space in Clearwater, FL.
The day McGlockton was shot was the day Drejka walked free, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law. This was the same law used by George Zimmerman to justify the murder of young Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Rayner-Goolsby did not hesitate to represent the McGlockton family. In reference to her profession she states that, “I knew I wanted to fight for people who were marginalized and protect people’s rights.” The McGlockton family needed someone that would whole-heartedly fight for them until justice was served. Twenty-five days after the shooting, many rallies, and growing press, Drejka was finally arrested.
“The Markeis McGlockton case meant everything to me. Prior to this case, I have represented families and individuals who have been impacted by state-sanctioned violence. This case happened in my hometown, so this was incredibly personal to me. When Michael McGlockton called me, it was a not a second thought. Markeis’ death represented a real-life example of white supremacy and the impact Stand Your Ground has on Black and Brown folx.”
Today, Drejka, after being charged for manslaughter, is in jail following a guilty verdict delivered August 23, 2019. In reaction to the verdict Rayner-Goolsby shares, “I fell over and cried. It was so much emotion, grief, hope, vindication and I thought of so many other families who were not able to hear these words and receive a semblance of justice.”
What this case, like many before it, conveyed was that there still is a way to go in reference to the societal rhetoric used to describe blackness in America. When asked about this Rayner- Goolsby shared that, “The defense did their best to weaponize Blackness. The opening statement said ‘Markeis did not need a weapon. He was the weapon.’ The defense utilized racist tropes in their attempt to sway the jury. However, the jury was able to see through the thinly veiled attempts to paint Markeis as the aggressor and his killer the victim.”
This conviction should resonate widely amongst us all. It is an abnormal occurrence when a white man in America is actually held accountable for the death of a person of color.
“This conviction is monumental, but not just here in the state of Florida. It’s a message to the nation, one that is growing increasingly tired of gun violence rooted in hate and white supremacy,” Rayner-Goolsby contends. It is her hope that this will be a much-needed step in repealing Stand Your Ground.
“People of good will and moral conscious are sick and tired of hearing stories about police and regular citizens taking the lives of innocent people simply because they view them as inferior. Markeis is one in a long list of Black Americans whose lives have been cut down by white men who are threatened by their blackness. So in this moment we remember Markeis, but we also remember the Black men, women girls, queer and trans folx who have been killed and we uplift their families, many of whom, will never see their loved ones murderers convicted. Justice for Markeis is a step in the right direction, but we know that we have a long road ahead. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported Markeis’ family and his legal team.”
As a woman of multiple intersecting identities, Michele Rayner-Goolsby is a Black woman who loves her people and oppressed people as a whole. She strives to put their rights in the center of her advocacy as she continues to use her platform to deliver justice where and when it is needed.
“I think no matter what arena you may find yourself in, center Black, POC, and marginalized folx. Meaning, create space for these people, advocate for them and keep them in mind that when you are walking through doors, you’re making the way easier for others coming behind you.”