By: Shawn Davis
“American Tragedy” was the title on the front page of a magazine that I spotted in Manhattan a few days ago. Of course the impetus of such title is tied to the Trayvon Martin shooting. Since the national media has begun – thankfully, since the incident occurred over a month ago – to highlight the unfortunate incident and keep it in the national consciousness, I needed to take some time before I opened my mouth in this forum.
Geraldo Rivera made waves with comments against the wearing of hooded sweatshirts and he was ripped to shreds over it. Basically, it came down to Rivera feeling that being a minority male, over the age of 15, adorned with a hoodie in a different neighborhood after dark is a “9-1-1 call waiting to happen.” In a sensitive topic such as this one is, the response was pointed and bursting with emotion. Russell Simmons vehemently opposed Rivera’s viewpoint on what minorities should and shouldn’t allow their children to wear and called his apology a “non-apology.” Personally, I do see why Rivera said what he did and I see why Simmons opposed; however I do appreciate that the dialogue of this tragedy hasn’t been pushed to the background – yet. It needs to be a topic of discussion for people of all races and backgrounds. Why? There is something so off-putting about fingering a person as having malicious intentions because of a choice in clothing and that goes without saying.
One thing that did run across my mind was the hoodie itself. I remember my mother hating the fact that my older brother used to go out at night with one on – or just wear them at any time for that matter. It never sat well with her because she thought being a young black man, at times, was enough of a reason to get unwarranted attention of all sorts. I can relate to that as I have had detectives press guns (plural) into my ribcage because “I fit the description” and that was without the aid of a hoodie.
What is it about the hoodie?
Many people have one in their wardrobe, somewhere, right? There are extremely popular with the youth of every color and also with their adult counterparts. They’re used for cross-training, weight lifting, as a light jacket, for work, fashion, etc. It’s a mainstream article of clothing and everyone I know has one. I only own one and I bought it over two years ago. Before that I didn’t have a single hooded sweatshirt – or any type of hood for that matter – for over eight years in my wardrobe. Why? The discomfort my mom always held for the garment and a few other reasons that she and I shared.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines mainstream as “a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence.” Mainstream is accepted, mainstream has broad appeal and it’s everywhere. Hoodies are everywhere.
So why did it take me so many years to own one?
I’m black – and in certain situations – that’s more than enough to get me stopped so I decided long ago that I didn’t need something to highlight that. There is nothing wrong with the garment but it carries a stigma with the authorities and others who don’t happen to carry badges. In no way have I ever felt that the garment is representative of the person wearing it but images of criminals being placed into cars or being led into police stations while wearing them has indeed colored perception. I stand by the aforementioned statement with everything I believe and it’s not a grand declaration of any sorts. It’s grounded in truth.
Every so often I recall the time when I had those two pistols pressed into my midsection and it usually comes to mind when I see police stopping anyone on the street, specifically a minority. My brain just flashes back to that episode because it’s just burned into my psyche and I doubt that will ever change. Since the shooting in Florida I wondered whether I would’ve been hurt by those detectives if I had a hood on, decided to run or both. I’m almost positive about the outcome had I did.
The mainstream acceptance of the article of clothing still has not erased the stigma that’s been attached to it. I remember my mother being livid with my brother when he started buying them by the boatload and some of the disagreements they had over time. For him they were cool – and he had damn near every color you could imagine – while for her they were unnecessary and possibly detrimental. Martin’s choice of outfit didn’t get him killed but I feel the stigma of what wearing the hooded sweatshirt represented, added to the fact that he was black definitely led George Zimmerman to – hastily – approach and ultimately kill the young man. Mind you, the police dispatcher told Zimmerman, clearly, not to pursue Martin but he ignored that and we all know what the outcome proved to be.
I understand that the “Stand Your Ground” law is the reason why Zimmerman is still, up to this point, allowed to sleep in a bed of his choosing and not a prison issued one but it has holes as wide as the ones in your pastrami and Swiss cheese wrap. The law, itself, can promote a vigilante-type mentality which I’m sure those who created the legislature didn’t anticipate or want. (I sure hope they didn’t.)
Another issue is that the gun policies in the state of Florida leave much to be desired. It is legal to carry a loaded, concealed weapon in the state as long as you have taken the (short amount of) time to complete the application; even as a non-resident you can get a concealed carry permit. I think it would be a great service if this law is put under the microscope and possible tweaked in the very near future.
My heart goes out to the parents who lost such a young man before he got the chance to reach his potential. I don’t feel the hoodie caused him to lose his life but the stigma of what it represented definitely factored into the equation.