Stevie Wonder Boycott Still Shy of Artists' Support

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Legendary pop star Stevie Wonder is aiming for higher ground by deciding to boycott the state of Florida as a personal response to George Zimmerman's acquittal, a move that's burning up the Twitterverse.

The famous R&B singer and songwriter ( Isn't She Lovely, Higher Ground and Superstition are just three of his more famous songs) is protesting the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives the victim of an assault an increased ability to plead self-defense if the assailant is killed.

The law played some role in the case of Zimmerman, who shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012. Language from the law was quoted to the jury and mentioned in the decision to acquit. Nonetheless, some have argued that the case would have been decided the same way even without the law.

Confusion has emerged over which artists are supporting Wonder's boycott. On Monday, April Ryan, a correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, posted a list of names that included Jay-Z, the Rolling Stones and Madonna, but the list appears to be at least premature. Some of the musicians and performers cited by American Urban Radio have existing contracts to play in Florida and may be unlikely to break those contracts.

Wonder didn't make an open call for artists to join him in the boycott. In the announcement, made on Sunday at a summer festival concert in Quebec, he said, "We can let our voices be heard and we can vote in our various countries throughout the world to change inequality for everybody." As a personal choice, he added that "until the 'Stand Your Ground' law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again," nor will he perform in any other state or country that has such laws.

"Stand Your Ground" has proven to be the most likely target for change that could come out of the Zimmerman trial. President Obama has voiced concerns about the law as has Attorney General Eric Holder.

Artists have historically taken stands against laws that appeared to violate civil rights. Ray Charles was famously fined in his home state of Georgia after refusing to play in a segregated hall in 1961. He paid the fine and returned to perform in the same hall after it was desegregated.

While the roster of supporters of Wonder's move is still unclear, his announcement resonated with artists and will likely bring some support as many entertainers have expressed disappointment and frustration with the Zimmerman verdict.

As a contrary indicator of support for Wonder's announcement, Detroit's favorite right-wing son Ted Nugent blasted the soul singer, quoted in a report on Huffington Post.

"You've got to be kidding me," Nugent said. "So 700 black people, mostly young children and young people were slaughtered in Chicago last year by black people, and not a peep out of Stevie Wonder. Are you kidding me? What is this, 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'? How brain-dead do you have to be?"

In the same breath, Nugent claims the trial presents "a clear-cut case where all the evidence" found Zimmerman acted in self-defense. That's not true, of course. What the jury found was very little evidence, but just enough to not rule out self-defense as a motive. That's a far cry from concluding the crime was clearly self-defense and an even further cry from suggesting Martin was a "dope-smoking hoodlum," as Nugent says. Martin was never on trial. He's dead.

But under the conditions of Florida state law, that slim defense was enough to acquit Zimmerman.

Nugent highlights the racism at work here. He claims "evidence" was the deciding factor but then says the problems within the black community automatically made Trayvon Martin a suspect because he was black. That racist expectation is what the post-trial controversy is all about, both the outrage against and the support for the verdict.

Those appalled by the Zimmerman ruling can use Nugent's logic to feel justified, while the right-wing will nod in agreement and pat their guns. Good work, Ted.

Writing for Slate, Jack Hamilton notes that Wonder is "a zillion times smarter" than the average pop star and, while his boycott is largely symbolic, it could turn into something more should a flood of important artists join him. Many people may want to engage in a boycott but determine they can't for business reasons.

According to several polls, while a large majority of African Americans were dissatisfied with the trial verdict, the white community is split. Across the U.S. population as a whole, the topic remains controversial. To maintain a national audience, some pop artists can ill afford to step into such a firestorm, potentially alienating important industry outlets and audiences.

Wonder himself made the issue even more complicated by extending his personal boycott beyond Florida to an unnamed list of states and countries that support such "Stand Your Ground"-type laws. Some 30 states have some version of the law on their books. That is a one big, nebulous list.

Add into that the arguable role of the "Stand Your Ground" law in the actual verdict and you've got . . . a great excuse for artists to stare at their shoes and do nothing.

To start a flood of support, the boycott would have to be very popular. For that, it would take the PR machine of a few more highly recognized artists, like those mentioned by Ryan, coming out in public support of at least the Florida boycott part of Wonder's statement. It remains to be seen if that will happen.

To help the process, Wonder should issue a followup statement clarifying the extent of his boycott, creating a reasonable goal for other leading entertainers and specifically calling on them to join him. It may be his personal choice, as he insisted in his announcement, but it has much larger implications for the music community. By doing that, he could help others make their own personal choice.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York

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