Murder in Florida

September 17, 1993

After a German tourist was murdered in Miami and before a British tourist was murdered near Tallahassee, the Miami Herald editorialized, "Fighting crime against visitors is only a partial answer to the problem . . . . We must also stop the daily savagery against each other." A Herald columnist wrote, "We should be less concerned about how others view us and more concerned about how we view ourselves." Sure, but precisely because the victims were visitors, no recent crime story has so highlighted the direct link between crime and a community's overall well being.

After the most recent foreign tourist murder, London tabloids ran huge front page headlines such as "GUNNED DOWN LIKE ANIMALS" and "HELP ME, HE'S DYING." These and the stories in more sober newspapers in Britain, Germany and other Europeans countries are going to slow the flow of foreign tourists to Florida. A Miami Beach travel executive who specializes in European packaged tours says he expects his bookings to fall off 20 to 25 percent next year.

If he's right and typical, that means a loss of at least $1.5 billion spent in the state. And that means not only tens of million of dollars in lost tax revenues but also thousands of lost jobs.

Real people in the hotel, car rental, airline, restaurant and other such businesses are going to be out of work. Real working people who are not poor now are going to be unemployed and poor because of the murders of foreign tourists in Florida this year. If American tourists become fearful of Florida vacations -- and there is already anecdotal evidence that that is happening -- the harm to Florida's economy will be even greater. A mere 5-6 percent drop in U.S. visitors to the state would cost it another $1.5 billion.

Gov. Lawton Chiles demonstrated that he realizes the need for a prompt and certain demonstration of force against this sort of criminality by mobilizing many more law enforcement officers to prevent it. This should have been done before. It should be routine. That there are criminals with no concern for human life in America's cities and on its highways hardly comes as a surprise in 1993. But, as the Herald editorial writer and columnist suggest, many government officials have tended not to see crime as an urgent threat to the overall community or give it high priority when it is only slum residents and drug addicts killing each other.

That is moral obtuseness and also economic obtuseness. The same fear of crime that now will turn many European tourists away from Florida and, to a degree, impoverish it, long ago turned many Americans away from big cities toward far-flung suburbs, literally impoverishing those cities in the process. Crime, especially the violent variety, has many victims, direct and indirect, individual and communal. Elected officials and those who elect them must understand this and take the expensive, perhaps dramatic steps needed to protect individuals and society from this threat.

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