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Florida Boycott Gains Steam As NABJ Readies Annual Convention In Orlando

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A tourist boycott of Florida is gaining strength, whipped by rage, disbelief and disappointment in a jury's weekend acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The boycott is aimed at repealing Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which allows civilian gun owners to use deadly force even when they can safely walk away from a confrontation.

In a petition that launched online this week, boycott organizer Chris Bergman wrote, "Florida is not a safe place to take your family for vacation as long as Florida law permits a citizen to shoot or kill you for merely looking suspicious, and to do it with impunity. Boycott Florida tourism until this dangerous law is overturned."

During a concert Sunday in Quebec City, music legend Stevie Wonder told a crowd, "I decided today that until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again."

Patrick Mason, professor of economics and director of African American Studies at Florida State University, said a boycott could work, if it affects the 80 million tourists who visit the state each year. "You would have to have a boycott that is extremely widespread, that is capable of getting even some international attention," Mason said, pointing to an inadvertent boycott that took place in the state in the early-1990s after a German tourist was killed.

"The reaction for Germans was, 'We're not coming to Florida anymore,' and the state of Florida reacted by increasing safety throughout the state," Mason explained. "I bet we have the safest rest stops in the country now."

Others have pointed the $5 million to $12 million loss the city of Miami endured in 1990 when a group of black lawyers called for conventions to boycott the city until local leaders apologized for not officially welcoming South African activist Nelson Mandela during a visit.

"Granted, you’re talking about a state that’s turned down billions of dollars in Obamacare purely out of ideology ... a state where people have made their careers on these hyper-aggressive laws that make it easy to get guns, so ... it will not happen quickly, but it will happen," Mason said. "Especially if the boycott is sophisticated enough to not only go after tourism, but to go after agriculture at the same time."

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida ranks second in the value of vegetable production, and first in cash receipts for oranges, grapefruit, fresh snap beans, sweet corn, watermelons, fresh cucumbers, squash and sugarcane. The state is seventh in agricultural exports with $3.1 billion.

Despite the stakes, some said a boycott is not the best approach.

"Florida has the third-largest black population of any state in the United States," noted Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, slated for its annual convention in Palm Beach, Fla., next week. "There are 3.4 million blacks in Florida and you're saying, 'Let's hurt them, too.' I don't think it's going to work." Instead, he suggested boycott efforts be targeted directly at Sanford, where Zimmerman killed Martin.

For journalists slated to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists, or NABJ, in Orlando, Fla., at the end of the month, a boycott simply isn't practical.

"If we were to do something such as boycott, it would basically bankrupt our organization and it really defeats the purpose and takes away a powerful voice," said NABJ president Gregory Lee. "We had to look at the long-term view. Our organization is very vital to our nation, to our community in making sure that our stories are being told. ... If there was no National Association of Black Journalists, you wouldn't have had the Trayvon Martin story out there."

Jeanine Amber, senior writer at Essence magazine who penned a heart-wrenching interview with Trayvon Martin's family last year, said it's journalists' job to chart controversial territory like the Sunshine State.

"My hope is that when you have a giant contingent of reporters descending on an area that is already under scrutiny, you're only going to hold people more accountable," Amber said. "You're going to have a lot of people there asking a lot of serious questions about what is going on in that state. I understand the call for a boycott and I understand why some people would not want to go to Florida on principle, after what's gone on, but the people who should be there are the journalists and the advocates."

Amber and fellow editors at Essence are launching a social media campaign this week called "#HesNotASuspect" that they hope will have a more immediate impact in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict than a boycott of Florida. "What we're asking readers to do is to take pictures of themselves with a young man they care about -- their son, grandson, nephew, neighbor -- and write a few lines about what makes him so awesome. The idea is we want to counter some of the negative stereotypes that are used against our boys. We want and end to racial profiling. Our goal is to humanize our sons," Amber said.

In its response to the verdict, Lee said NABJ has added a panel called, "The Verdict: Black Journalists Role In Covering The Trayvon Martin Case," moderated by the Rev. Al Sharpton and featuring Orlando Sentinel editor Mark Russell and Touré, among others.

"We realize the impact [this case] has had in this backyard ... and while we want to honor [Trayvon Martin] and make a mark in terms of the Zimmerman trial, we need to think big picture in terms of what does this really mean, not think of it from an emotional standpoint," Lee said. He added that the Voting Rights Act also will be high on the NABJ agenda.

"The only way you're going to get the laws changed on Stand Your Ground is by voting not just for president, but for your judges, your sheriffs, your governor," Lee said. "Next year is the governor's race in Florida!"

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