How many laws has California passed, how many verdicts have its juries reached, how many social movements has it launched that other people in other states consider unjust or vile and would like to punish with a boycott?
That’s one of the questions members of The Times' editorial board asked one another in May 2010 when we were considering whether to weigh in for or against a boycott of Arizona to send a message of protest against SB 1070, our neighboring state’s strict anti-illegal immigration law.
And it’s a question that comes up again now, shortly before the Legislature is to take up Assemblyman Chris Holden’s proposed joint resolution calling for a boycott of Florida over the acquittal of George Zimmerman and -- or -- that state’s “stand your ground” law.
Boycotts are a tricky business. Sometimes there are few options but to cut off contact, trade and any other connection with a government that has acted offensively or poses a danger; even then, a boycott is problematic. Liberals were angry at President Reagan’s policy of constructive engagement with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Conservatives were unhappy with a succession of presidents’ pursuit of détente with the Soviet Union. Engage and persuade? Or isolate and punish? In international relations, nations go case by case, step by step.
Within the United States, boycotts are trickier still. What sense does it make, really, to launch an economic war between the states because the people or government of one is unhappy with the people or government of another? It may be that some people gave up avocados and trips to Disneyland or Malibu after voters here adopted Proposition 8, or Proposition 13. Or after juries here acquitted O.J. Simpson, or the officers who beat Rodney King. Or because of our abortion laws. Or any one of numerous slights, injustices or differences of opinion.
But if entire states actually turned their backs on California for every foolish or unfair thing we did, we’d either be pariahs or a population of unthinking, go-along-to-get-along people too scared of boycotts to think for ourselves.
Still -- is it impossible to imagine one state having laws or taking actions that are so repulsive that we want our government here to completely disengage? If apartheid was still practiced in some Southern state, for example, wouldn’t we embrace a boycott until the laws there were changed?
Boycotts of the segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., launched the modern civil rights movement, and were conducted with the full weight of moral authority. But they were conducted not by some neighboring state but by the riders who were directly affected by the unjust and demeaning laws that mandated segregation, not by a sister state looking on from a safe distance.
The Times' editorial board is weighing in Sunday with an editorial opposing Holden’s call for a boycott of Florida. We don’t like that state’s “stand your ground” law because we believe that it gives too much benefit of the doubt to shooters and not enough to their victims. But a boycott in response seems unfair. First, if the problem to be addressed is the law, why call for the boycott now, in the wake of the verdict, instead of when the law was passed, or when it was first cited in connection with this case?
And second, there are some 20 other states with “stand your ground” laws that are at least as likely as Florida’s to encourage people to shoot rather than to avoid conflict and killing. Why target Florida?
The answer might be because that’s where Zimmerman needlessly followed, confronted and fatally shot Trayvon Martin. But Zimmerman did not invoke the “stand your ground” law in his defense. Jury instructions used language from the law, but on that point they were not much different from self-defense instructions used in many states without “stand your ground” laws, including California.
There is a national dialogue about this killing in particular -- regardless of what the shooter was thinking at the time -- because of race, and because of a history of laws that appear evenhanded on their face but that have been applied unequally against African Americans. The killing and the verdict can result in dialogue, understanding and a continuing effort for equal justice under the law, or they can result merely in a mutual turning of backs -- American against American, state against state. Holden’s proposed boycott resolution, to be introduced when the Legislature returns from vacation Aug. 5, is intended to promote the former, but it seems more likely geared toward the latter.
As for the Arizona boycott, The Times ended up going a different way, calling for Major League Baseball to take the very limited, message-sending step of moving the All-Star Game to another state.
It didn’t work.
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