Florida's Zimmerman problem

NEED TO KNOW
  • After not-guilty verdict, calls grow to boycott Sunshine State
  • Official Florida Facebook pages plastered with comments
  • Many hope tourism dip would force 'Stand Your Ground' change
Florida's Zimmerman problem

Almost from the moment that the details of Trayvon Martin's death began receiving national attention, social media -- and Facebook, in particular -- have been an outlet for the outrage.

Even after each side had rested its case, profile photos went black as part of a viral movement among Martin supporters to display solidarity while awaiting a verdict. That verdict also ignited its own furious online response and now, more than a week after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of the 17-year-old Martin, many people upset with the defendant walking free have launched a new protest.

But this time the target is not Zimmerman -- it's his home state.

"With the acquittal of Zimmerman, I cannot in good conscious (sic) ever vacation or visit the state of Florida ever again," a user posted to the state's Visit Florida Facebook page. "I have two small grandchildren and they love Disney World, but they'll just have to learn to love someplace (sic) else."

Pages specifically created to encourage a protest, including Boycott Florida and Boycott Florida's Economy For Trayvon, have sprung up, while the comments sections in some of Florida tourism's official Facebook pages, such as Visit Florida and Florida Tourism Industry, have been hijacked by users swearing off the Sunshine State.

The calls and pledges to boycott are an online extension of the offline campaign to keep tourist dollars -- and possibly orange juice dollars -- out of the state where Zimmerman shot and killed Martin and where his trial occurred.

Many of those expressing support for the boycott say they are disgusted with the state's legal system or consider it hostile toward minorities. But most have a specific purpose in mind: That slowing the flow of tourism dollars will pressure Florida into changing its controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which some people believe contributed to Zimmerman's acquittal. His right to "stand his ground and meet force with force" was mentioned in the jury's instructions.

"Stand your ground laws will FOREVER keep me OUT of Florida! Time to make a stand against injustice!" pledged one woman.

"Sorry, but I can't allow myself to spend my tourist dollars in a state that tries hard to suppress minority votes as well as allows racist vigilantes to shoot/kill unarmed teenage boys," another user posted. "I have other places in mind for my upcoming vacation plans."

An online petition at MoveOn.org to boycott "Florida tourism until the 'Stand Your Ground' law is overturned" has nearly 13,000 signatures and music star Stevie Wonder told a crowd last week that he will "never perform there again" unless the law is "abolished."

However, as the calls for a boycott have grown, so too have the number of people jumping in to defend Zimmerman -- and Florida. 

"Our family loves visiting Florida, especially the Fort Myers Beach area…. It makes me feel safer knowing that citizens can protect themselves," writes one Facebook user.

Others are half-heartedly encouraging the boycott with a general "we don't want you here anyway" type of sentiment or hoping the protest has unintended, positive consequences for the local economy. "Boycotting Florida is like boycotting Chick-fil-A," one person posted. "Tourism will explode for the next 3 to 4 months, bring it!!!"

As with any protest, there can always be a chasm here between calls to action and actual action. However, some supporters have already announced changes of plans ("Just now cancelled a two week trip to Florida in August. Yes, it was due to the protest. Hawaii, here we come!!!") and if more follow it could strike the state right where it hurts most. Tourism is Florida's No. 1 industry, generating $71.8 billion last year and employing more than 1 million people.

Phone calls by HLN to the state's official tourism marketing corporation, Visit Florida, seeking comment on the Zimmerman verdict backlash were not returned.

However, Florida defenders are lining up on Facebook to uphold their state's sunny reputation. "If you insist on boycotting the state because of the trial, then by all means it's your right to. But don't come up here to a tourism site and slander the state as racist and intolerant."

The state's laws are also being defended -- by Gov. Rick Scott. He recently met with seven people leading a protest against "Stand Your Ground" and told them he does not intend to change it. In other words, if Stevie Wonder, Facebook users and everyone else pledging to boycott the state are serious about their demands, they may not be returning to Florida for a long time.

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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