Is Boycotting Florida The Answer?

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Lots of folks are planning on boycotting Florida.

First there is Stevie Wonder, who announced that he would not be playing in the Sunshine State until it repealed its Stand Your Ground law. There is also members of the California Legislative Black Caucus, who recently introduced a resolution also calling for a boycott of Florida. Then on, an online petition has been launched in support of boycotting all business and tourism to Florida, not only until SYG is repealed, but also “so that an armed person killing an unarmed person cannot use self defense as a legal justification.” Even outside of the political and entertainment realms, there are ordinary citizens vowing to forgo their daily glasses of orange juice and family vacations to Disney World until Florida does the right thing.

Yet there are 25 states total that have adopted some variations of Stand Your Ground laws, which allow for the usage of deadly force in self defense. And we’re not talking only against home intruders, but thanks to this new expansive definition (championed by the National Rifle Association), crimes committed in public. And if we are being honest here, the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was only slightly related to SYG laws to begin with. What I mean is that by focusing solely on SYG, we ignore what is truly the elephant in the room: there is a strong anti-black sentiment in this country and that sentiment likely aided Zimmerman more than any law we have on the books.

As noted by this article in Slate, many folks, in spite of color, have a hard time empathizing with black folks’ pain – or even believing that black folks are capable of feeling pain at all. I think this phenomenon is best demonstrated by Juror B37, who recently appeared anonymously on Anderson Cooper to discuss her now-defunct book deal. Besides her belief that race did not play a role in what transpired the night Martin was killed, she goes on to say about Zimmerman that, “I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong…” Throughout the interview, the juror expressed more sympathy and compassion for Zimmerman’s assumptions about Martin than she did for the reality of who Martin really was and what he was actually doing that night (which was a kid, rather innocently coming back from a junk food run from the store). He was profiled and murdered.

What this empathy gap suggests to me is that if it hadn’t been Stand Your Ground, at least for Juror B37, she would have found some other justification to latch her preconceived prejudices on. That sort of subtle racism can’t be undone by protesting and boycotting – at least not just protesting and boycotting Florida. And that’s because Florida is not the lone boogeyman in this fight, as there are also the 24 other states with SYG-like laws. And there is also stop-and-frisk and other legalized racial profiling tactics being used by major cities like New York City all across America. And then there are the racial disparages in the applications of the laws themselves including SYG, which saw less convictions applied when the victim just so happened to be black. At this point, Boycott Florida might have to turn into Boycott America.

I don’t want to discourage anyone who is actively boycotting Florida. More than anything else, it sends a powerful message about the force of our black dollars, especially if instead spent at black-owned businesses. But after we finish boycotting Florida we should be asking where to take this movement next, so that we can prevent Trayvon Martins from happening in the future.

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