Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
Opinion Opinion L.A.

A California bill to boycott Florida? It's a bad idea.

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.

ALSO:

Why try George Zimmerman?

Five reasons to stay away from Texas right now

Morrison: 'Fruitvale Station's' Ryan Coogler, the message maker

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Full coverage: The Trayvon Martin case
    Full coverage: The Trayvon Martin case
  • Federal government fails basic openness test
    Federal government fails basic openness test

    You’d think that if you were going to get a timely and adequate response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the federal government, it would be from the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy, which oversees the government’s compliance with FOIA requests.

  • Legislature, close loophole exempting building projects from CEQA
    Legislature, close loophole exempting building projects from CEQA

    There are few state laws developers loathe more than the California Environmental Quality Act. They complain that CEQA requires endless studies at an exorbitant cost. Drawn-out public hearings and threats of lawsuits can make development too unpredictable and risky. Interested parties — from environmentalists...

  • We're on a slippery slope toward a totally monitored world
    We're on a slippery slope toward a totally monitored world

    The John Hancock company has announced a program offering discounts on life insurance to customers with good health habits, as registered on their Fitbit monitors — wearable computers that automatically upload data on your physical state. The most physically active customers may earn as much as...

  • The better, fairer minimum wage -- add time and tips
    The better, fairer minimum wage -- add time and tips

    I purchased my first restaurant in 1985, and I am currently the managing partner of 11 restaurants in Los Angeles, including Bestia, Republique, Barrel and Ashes, Redbird and Pettycash. Like everyone in the service industry, I have a keen interest in the debate over whether and how to raise the...

  • Carolyn Ramsay for L.A. Council District 4
    Carolyn Ramsay for L.A. Council District 4

    The race to replace longtime City Councilman Tom LaBonge started out promisingly — there were 14 candidates from inside politics and out, some more serious than others, but enough who were smart, enterprising and scrappy. Now, after an appallingly low turnout primary in a district known for its...

Comments
Loading