Residents of "Knifecrime Island" might become increasingly wary of traveling to the "Gunshine State." The brutal murder of two British tourists in Sarasota has shocked the United Kingdom, and now the country's media is stirring the idea that maybe Florida isn't such a safe place to visit.
For a state that relies heavily on tourism, and at a time when the dollar is weak against other currencies, this isn't a good thing. But many of the problems the British press mentions are the same issues that at times make Florida a less-than-nice place to live and, oddly, that politicians don't seem to be addressing.
James M. Cooper, 25, and James Thomas Kouzaris, 24, both from the UK, were found dead early Saturday morning in the impoverished Sarasota neighborhood of Newtown. (As a side note: Originally, British media reported the murders happened in Miami.) How they ended up in Newtown remains something of a mystery. The men's families deny they went there to buy drugs, and no drugs were found in their bodies, while some reports suggest the two might have been victims of a robbery scam. Either they entered a car they thought was a taxi, driven by someone with the intention to rob them, or they accepted a ride from someone who had ill intentions.
But police know who killed the pair. A 16-year-old boy has been arrested. Sarasota Police have shot down British media reports that the murder was part of a gang initiation, but there are reports the boy had been released from prison just ten hours earlier after being jailed for firing a gun at a car.
Whatever the case, the incident isn't likely to increase tourism in Florida.
Hugh Hunter, a British vice consul in Florida for almost 10 years, went on the BBC this morning to warn Britons of the dangers of the state. While he reminds viewers it's quite rare that tourists actually end up dead, it's not uncommon in Florida to be driving in a good neighborhood and then suddenly, after making a wrong turn, end up in an impoverished area.
Anyone who has driven around Miami-Dade knows that. Think, for example, how quickly Coconut Grove transitions from a tourist-friendly neighborhood to a destitute area.
Telegraph writer Andrew M. Brown takes the connection a step further and blames income inequality in Florida.
"This appalling story serves as a reminder to British people, more than a million of whom go on holiday to Florida each year, of the way in which American society differs to ours," he writes. "Especially in the southern states, the U.S. is still a very divided, not to say segregated, society. People are starkly separated by wealth and class, and by race.
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"There's a tacit acceptance there that a chunk of society exists in a different world, riddled with crime, wretched and without prospects of escape. I doubt if many of us in Britain would be comfortable with that degree of social segregation."
This is all more or less true, and while Florida politicians continue to pursue tax cuts for the wealthy while making cuts to social services, it's unlikely the vast income inequality and disparity in crime between neighborhoods in Florida will end. We can't pretend any longer that such problems don't affect Florida's biggest economic engine: tourism.
As long as Florida is not a nice place to live for even the poorest, it won't be the safest to visit for even the wealthiest.