Keep out of Florida

September 20, 1993

Florida police used dragnet tactics last week in their search for the slayers of a British tourist. This has touched off a debate along the familiar individual rights versus community rights line. What is interesting is that even though all the suspects rounded up and questioned were black, the fault line on the debate has not been a strictly racial one. A black junior high school principal in Jefferson County, where the police effort was conducted, said: "We're concerned about the protections of rights of individuals. At the same time we would like to see justice served."

According to one Florida newspaper's reporting from Jefferson County, other blacks "especially those who live in the same public housing project as many of the questioned youths found nothing wrong with the police tactics, noting that their small town suffered from crime as serious as any big city." This is a good point. If Florida law enforcement had been as determined to find, punish and thus deter the killers of poor, local victims over the years, the state might not be facing the economic catastrophe confronting it now.

Make no mistake, catastrophe it is likely to be. Headlines such as the one in a London newspaper reading "Keep Out of Florida" are going to cost Florida's tourist industry billions in European travel dollars in the years ahead. One Florida travel agent who specializes in European tourists says business is down 51 percent compared to last year (prior to the British murder victim last week, eight other foreign tourists were killed in the state between the two periods). These lost dollars will mean many Florida residents now working will be on unemployment or welfare soon. Hundreds of miles away from crime scenes the non-poor are becoming poverty-stricken.

Nor is it just Florida. Delta Airlines, the largest U.S.-European BTC carrier, reported last week that some Europeans headed for Florida were changing their tickets for other U.S. destinations -- and some were saying no to any U.S. vacation spot. The New York City Police Department has just begun to update its crime prevention tips booklet for tourists. We assume Maryland, which of course has an international airport and numerous tourist attractions, will make visitors more secure.

To the degree that this high visibility crime and its obvious shock waves motivate governments everywhere to re-think crime against visitors, it should also motivate them to consider the real, full costs of crime against residents and take the appropriate action.

Obviously this has not been done.

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