Hoodie becomes symbol of injustice
It's one of the most utilitarian pieces of clothing hanging in just about everybody's closet. Green and white hoodies with the Bulls logo can be spotted all over the University of South Florida campus. Androgynous tween heartthrob Justin Bieber wears hoodies, and parents don't bat an eye. Bealls sells them as resort wear for grandmothers; Trendy Tummy Maternity offers one with concealed openings for breastfeeding. But when a young black man dons one, and pulls up the hood against the rain or cold, people get nervous. An unarmed Trayvon Martin, 17, was wearing a dark-colored hoodie on a drizzling night in late February when he was shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain in the Orlando suburb of Sanford.Since then, the hoodie has become a symbol of injustice in a flash flood of protests against the shooting and the lack of an arrest of shooter George Zimmerman, who says he acted in self-defense. Today, Tampa area supporters will pull on their hoodies for a rally starting at 10 a.m. at Al Lopez Park and moving to the corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at 11 a.m. "I tell people it could have been any of our kids or our nephews," says Jean Vixamar, who belongs to Real Talk: Real Answers, a local Facebook group behind the rally. Facebook and Twitter have sparked with anger over the shooting, as supporters replaced profile pictures with photos of themselves or their children wearing hoodies. Twitter, which has higher usage rates among blacks than whites, has been inundated with tweets from users, including filmmaker Spike Lee and popular syndicated radio host and activist Michael Baisden. Vixamar says the Real Talk: Real Answers event will mirror others across the country in which protesters have worn hoodies and carried Skittles, the candy Martin bought at a convenience store just before the incident. "Yeah, it's going to be in the 80s, and it'll be hot out there with a hoodie on," Vixamar says. But there's a point to be made. "The hoodie does have a negative connotation. Young black men have to be aware. Anyone else can wear it, and it's fine." Geraldo Rivera on the Fox News Channel on Friday urged black and Latino parents to forbid their children to leave the house in the hooded jacket. He said he believes the hoodie was as responsible as Zimmerman for Martin's death. "Every time you see someone stick up a 7-Eleven, the kid is wearing a hoodie," said Rivera, on "Fox & Friends." "Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera … it's the kid with a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you're going to be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace." The hoodie has a decades-long reputation as the bad boy of the closet. Created by Champion in the 1930s for laborers in the cold warehouses of New York, a sad, gray version became famous in the 1970s, when Sylvester Stallone wore it during training montages in the boxing movie "Rocky." At about the same time, the hip-hop culture adopted it as a symbol of cool anonymity and vague menace. The hoodie became forever linked with seedy, threatening criminality when it was depicted in FBI composite drawings of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who began a mail bomb campaign in the late 1970s and was arrested in 1996. Graffiti artists, skateboarders and fans of punk music mimicked the scruffy look that announced the wearer as anything but mainstream. The hoodie's importance as a fashion statement was noted recently by the Huffington Post, which reported that a crystal-studded hoodie made by rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs had been acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Yet shopping malls in the United Kingdom and Australia have banned hoodies because of their nefarious past. Clearwater High School recently joined other middle and high schools in forbidding the jackets be worn on campus, despite their popularity with student athletes. Teenagers and young adults in Sulphur Springs, a neighborhood off Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, feel incensed about the events in Sanford, but not surprised. "Anybody should be able to wear a hoodie," says LaRyanna Burns, 15, who says she wears one often. But, she says, a black girl can get away with it when a black young man cannot. A dozen young people gathered Friday afternoon at Community Stepping Stones, a nonprofit neighborhood organization in Sulphur Springs that teaches teenagers art, to discuss the shooting. When asked if they believed Zimmerman eventually would be arrested, only one boy, who was white, raised his hand. "Whether he (Martin) ran or tried to stand up to him (Zimmerman), he would have been shot either way," LaRyanna said. All agreed that if it were a black neighborhood watch captain who shot a white teenager, an arrest would have occurred immediately. At 12, Elisha Edmond said he has seen police stop black males in his neighborhood for no reason. "They just looked for something to arrest him for," he said, adding that this makes young black men like him uneasy. "Nobody should be allowed to shoot somebody because they're wearing a hoodie and look suspicious," said Andrew VanBuren, 18, who is white. Laura McElroy, Tampa police spokeswoman, says officers would not profile someone just because he wore a hoodie. "The reality is, people who commit crimes utilize disguises," she says. "That might be sunglasses or ski masks. Does that mean every-one in sunglasses is a suspect? "Hoodies are popular with all elements. I just ordered mine from Eddie Bauer." Still, watch captain Zimmerman called police when he spotted Martin walking in his neighborhood, and mentioned that he looked suspicious and that he was wearing a dark hoodie. A black hoodie also played a role this week in the trial of Nicholas Lindsey Jr., who is accused of shooting St. Petersburg Police Officer David Crawford in downtown St. Petersburg in February 2011. After Crawford tried to question the then-16-year-old about some car burglaries in the area, police say Lindsey shot the officer and ran. Witnesses recognized the black hoodie the shooter wore, and Lindsey's DNA was found on the jacket, which was held up in court as evidence.
[email protected] (813) 259-8264 Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.