On July 13, a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. The next day, at a festival in Quebec, Canada, Stevie Wonder vowed that he would never play a show in Florida again as long as its "stand your ground" law was on the books. (Watch above)
On July 19, President Obama also encouraged Florida and other states take a hard look at their "stand your ground" laws, which allow people outside their homes to apply lethal force if they believe themselves to be in danger, with no duty to retreat. Such laws don't seem to be applied evenly for black and white citizens, Obama suggested.
Florida's law played a peripheral part in Zimmerman's acquittal (the judge included the statute in his instructions to the jury; Zimmerman's legal team didn't cite it) but a large part in the six week gap between the shooting and Zimmerman's arrest.
The boycott by Wonder, 63 years old and 30 years past his musical heyday, isn't going to prompt Florida's legislature to act. But according to the American Urban Radio Network's April Ryan, "sources close to the Stevie Wonder camp confirm a list of artist joining him in support of a change in the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida." The list is pretty impressive — Jay Z, the Rolling Stones, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, and others — and some of those artists "have even canceled concerts in Florida after recent events," Ryan says.
The Hill took Ryan's story and reported that "some of the music industry's biggest acts are joining Stevie Wonder in boycotting Florida over the state's controversial 'stand your ground' law." There's reason to doubt that claim: Jay Z and Timberlake are reportedly still playing Miami on Aug. 16, for example. But what if the biggest names in rock, pop, R&B, and hip-hop did boycott Florida? Would the "stand your ground" law be in mortal danger?
Not likely, says The Associated Press' Curt Anderson. The 22 states with Florida-type stand-your-ground laws tend to be "conservative and lean toward laws that defend gun owners' rights," and the National Rifle Association holds way more sway there than Stevie Wonder and the other civil rights advocates urging Florida boycotts. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) formed a commission to look at the law, they saw no reason to change it, and he's sticking with that. No amount of protest is likely to whet "an appetite in Florida or other states to repeal or change the laws," Anderson adds.
If all those musicians join Wonder, though, "this massive showing of solidarity is likely to gain notice from both fans and policymakers in the state," says Sara Haile-Mariam at Firedoglake. Whether Gov. Scott changes his mind "is still up in the air," but "moving something substantive forward will require participation from everyone who has a stake." In that sense, the protesters occupying Scott's office are "just as invaluable" as Wonder and his peers.
Wonder's Florida boycott alone "might have exerted real pressure in, say, 1976," but now it's "almost entirely a symbolic act," says Jack Hamilton at Slate. It's also "politically savvy, morally righteous, and it could be enormously important" if Jay Z, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, just about every big-name rap and hip-hop artist, and other big acts who've expressed displeasure with the Zimmerman verdict join in.
If these artists were to join in Wonder's boycott, the bottom lines of club promoters and festival organizers and concert arenas would start to look different in a hurry. And good luck finding a decent hip-hop show in Florida....
I'd wager that pretty soon all those celebrating Zimmerman's acquittal will be stuck listening to aging Neanderthal rockers and shucks-what-a-big-misunderstanding country stars and not a whole lot else, and even if some of them don't mind, their kids will. And those kids might decide Standing Their Ground isn't worth the fear and dull noise that surrounds them, that it's time to just stop sleeping and move forward and make something different. And when they do a blind man shall lead them. [Slate]