Hoodies in focus after US shooting

2012-04-01 22:29

Washington - Until just a few weeks ago, the "hoodie" was seen as just another article of clothing, a favourite garment of rumpled American teenagers and casually clad vacationers.

But the popular cloth jacket with attached hood has become a subject of controversy - as well as a badge of protest and outrage - following the fatal shooting in late February of a hoodie-wearing African-American youth by a community watch volunteer.

Since the death last month of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, there have been scores of protests across the United States - many with hoodie-wearing demonstrators - demanding justice for the slain youth.

Protesters have been calling for the arrest and prosecution of the shooter George Zimmerman, against whom police in the Florida town of Sanford have so far decided not to press charges.

This past week, US Congressman Bobby Rush staged one of the most visible protests, removing his suit jacket on the floor of the House of Representatives to reveal a hoodie and lifting the hood over his head. He also put on a pair of sunglasses.

"Racial profiling has to stop," he declared on the House floor.

"Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum," he said, before being escorted out of the chamber for violating the congressional dress code that bars lawmakers from wearing hats on the floor.

There was a similar protest in California's state legislature when lawmakers in the capital Sacramento donned hoodies to urge the federal government to conduct a thorough probe of the shooting.

Martin's fatal shooting has become another flashpoint in America's recurring debate over race and colour-blindness - or the lack of it - in the US criminal justice system.

Stereotypes and perceptions

Many African Americans and civil rights leaders have called it a case of racial profiling: In calls to a police emergency number on the night of the shooting, Zimmerman, 28, described a black male wearing a hoodie and looking "real suspicious".

Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News commentator, said that Martin died because of what he was wearing.

"His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did," the journalist said, arguing that a "kid of colour" wearing a hoodie ignites certain feelings of "scorn" and "menace".

California Assemblyman Steven Bradford, who took part in the protest by lawmakers there, said that a double standard is at work.

"How can a young man with nothing more than candy in his hand and a soft drink be gunned down and now be accused of causing his death simply by what he was wearing?" he said, referring to how Martin had just bought Skittles fruit-flavoured sweets and iced tea before the killing.

Angel Harris, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, said while Martin likely was singled out for his skin colour, the hoodie he was wearing might also have been a factor.

"It's what has come to be associated with urban black youth," Harris told AFP. "When a black young person is dressed in that manner, it triggers the stereotypes and perceptions - high poverty, crime, things like that.

"A larger dialogue needs to be had about the nature of stereotyping, and people's own unconscious biases," he said.

Johns Hopkins University professor Lester Spence said the hoodie has galvanised public attention - both positive and negative - because it is a graphic, yet readily accessible symbol.

Attached to race afterwards

But he said it would be simplistic to think that the hoodie trumps the issue of race in this incident.

"It wasn't the article of clothing. When [Zimmerman] called [police] about suspicious people, he was calling about black people. Then the issue becomes that we attach the hoodie to race after the fact," he said.

"This is part of a long history of taking articles of clothing or certain stylistic aspects and attaching meaning to them," he said, adding that people have taken offence at other fashions or hairstyles associated with blacks - like Afros in the 1960s or low-slung pants worn by youth today.

Since the shooting, a host of American celebrities of all races have turned up photographed in hoodies in solidarity with those calling for Zimmerman's arrest.

Miami Heat star player Dwyane Wade posted a picture of himself on his Facebook page wearing a hoodie. His teammate LeBron James posted a picture of the entire team in hooded sweatshirts with the Twitter post, "#WeAreTrayvonMartin #Hoodies #Stereotyped #WeWantJustice."

Noted Miami Herald newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts said he fails to see anything uniquely black in the hooded sweatshirt "worn by black, white, male, female, young, old, college kids and street kids".

"Martin wore his against a persistent drizzle as he walked home from 7-Eleven," Pitts wrote. "Shall we restrict them to umbrellas from now on?"

  • Koos - 2012-04-02 03:58

    The majority of Afro's in the US are not criminals but the majority of criminals are Afro's.

      Naledi - 2012-04-02 05:37

      Such a stupid comment

      Gregory - 2012-04-02 05:41

      Pity Its true.

      mlungisi.botha - 2012-04-02 06:37

      Says who? Check your stats man. A larger percentage of the US African American population than of the US White population is in prison. The largest number of prisoners in US prisons are White Americans. That means that the majority of criminals in the US are White Americans. Incidentally, Koos the largest population group in the US is White. That means your statement Koos is WRONG! That also means you don't deserve the 8 (so far) thumbs up you got. You'll probably get more thumbs up anyway because as with most things it's not the truth that counts but assumptions about the truth.

      Jonathan - 2012-04-02 07:52

      @mlungisi.botha You are wrong. You said that the majority of prisoners are white in America, since they are the majority of the countries' population. Despite this the majority of inmates are black. Please refer to the statistics published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. see page 19. White : 693,800 black : 841,000 even though blacks are only 13.6% of the US population they account for 40.1%(the majority) of the prison population. Koos is correct, YOU NEED TO CHECK YOUR STATS!

      zaatheist - 2012-04-02 08:25

      @Johnathan YOU NEED TO CHECK YOUR STATS! OOPS!!!!!! White : 693,800 black : 841,000 = 40.1% of 1,534,800???????????? Say what?

      Jonathan - 2012-04-02 09:17

      @zaatheist I only included the white and black populations since that is what mlungisi.botha was arguing about. Obviously(I thought it would be obvious) there are substantial populations of other races in prisons as well like Latinos\Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. The total prison population is 2,096,300 if you include these other races, then: 841,000(black)/2,096,300(Total) = 40.1%

      TSR01 - 2012-04-02 09:27

      zaatheist, you still need to account for Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Arab, etc. :)

      zaatheist - 2012-04-02 09:44

      @Johnathan Ok - that explains it thanks.

      Fidel - 2012-04-08 11:52

      @Koos How do you define criminal? Why does the US send so many people to prison in the first place? Why are sentences eight times longer than those in Europe? Are you kidding me? It's called "capitalism" and it is spelled Prison Inc. 25% of the world'stotal prison population resides in America. They lock up more people per head of population than all those 'evil' countries like North Korea, Russia, China, Iran. They also retain the death penalty, despite it having no impact on crime figures. Ever heard of the War On Drugs. What do you think this war is about, curbing drug use? Amazing how otherwise intelligent people fall for propaganda and accept what they┬┤re told instead of looking at facts for themselves.

      James - 2012-04-12 20:38

      50% of working age blacks are either on Parole, Probation or in Jail.Source US Justice Dept. My Friend a Supervisor at Rykers Island {NYC Jail} said "Not a White face in sight" Cost per perp $70,000 pa.

      James - 2012-04-12 20:44

      Between 8,000 and 9,000 blacks are killed in the US every year 93%, Black on Black. DOJ Stats

      James - 2012-04-12 20:53

      Eh Commie Fidel,We are a land of laws, you break the law you have a problem, You do it 3x then 3 strikes and you are out come into effect. You stay in Jail. As previous posts proved we have a sizeable % of 3rd World people residing in the States.

  • zaatheist - 2012-04-02 07:56

    Unfortunate it may be but the hoodie has become to be perceived by many as a device to conceal identity. We saw it used in the recent UK riots for just such purpose. It is also a symbol of rebellion against authority and societal norms, just as wearing a baseball cap backwards was used before. It is not a racial symbol.

  • Maronza - 2012-04-02 09:35

    Whether the hoodie is a clothing item associated with criminals, or is an element of racial profiling, or that this poor Martin guy was looking suspcicious or that most black in the US are in jail or criminals, I still battle to comprehend his actions that may have prompted for his shooting. What action that could be justifiably intepreted within the acceptable understanding to precipate a decision that this individual deserved to die because he did ABC which is criminal? Forget about our political or cultural predisposition for a moment and apply our mind to the law and its sole purpose of dealing with criminality. What law did this guy break to be punished. If none then this is a criminal act by the perpetrator that the law needs to charge. Period !

      zaatheist - 2012-04-02 09:47

      If you think racism is bad in South Africa you need to visit the states, and the South in particular. The levels of blatant, undisguised racism in that country are simply appalling. It is worn by many their as a badge of honor. So yes - he got killed because he had a dark skin and for no other reason.

      Fidel - 2012-04-08 11:56

      It is expected really of people who murdered almost the entire native population of that continent and kidnapped Africans to make them slaves. A rather despicable bunch of people, no wonder their appetite for killing and war has never waned.

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