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Anti-hoodie movement ignores real issues

By Tim Fenster Managing editor
On April 3, 2012

  • Trayvon Martin’s (above) death on Feb. 26 has triggered a variety of movements. However, protests are more focused on Martin’s hoodie than the Florida law that let his killer walk.

 The night of Feb. 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was watching an NBA game at the home of his father's fiancé in the gated community Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Fla. During halftime, Martin left to walk to a convenient store for Skittles and iced tea.

As the black 17-year-old walked through the upper-middle class community, he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old half-white, half-Hispanic Neighborhood Watch captain. Zimmerman was licensed to carry a firearm, and neighbors told the Miami Herald Zimmerman would go door-to-door telling neighbors to be on the lookout for outsiders, specifically young black men.

When Zimmerman saw Martin walking to the convenience store, he made the incorrect assumption that Martin was a criminal and began following the teen. Zimmerman also called Sanford police, saying, "This guy (Martin) looks like he is up to no good." The dispatcher advised Zimmerman to not take action and wait for police.

As Zimmerman spoke to police, Martin was on his cell phone speaking to his girlfriend. When Martin told his girlfriend that a man was following him, she told him to run.

Zimmerman then chased after Martin, and when he told police he was following Martin, a dispatcher advised him not to. "We don't need you to do that," the dispatcher said. Zimmerman didn't listen.

Martin's girlfriend said she heard Martin say, "What are you following me for?" Then she heard a man's voice say, "What are you doing here?"

What happened next is a mystery. Some witnesses say Martin attacked Zimmerman first, while others say Martin cried out for help before he was shot.

With so many conflicting parties and interests, it's hard to distinguish what's true from what isn't. However, there are two things we can be certain of: Zimmerman had no visible injuries following the incident and Martin did not present a weapon, and thus he did not threaten Zimmerman's life. Even so, Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest, killing him.

This tragedy spurred a national movement against the most unlikely of parties in the incident: the hoodie Martin was wearing. There are two problems with this movement.

First, the anti-hoodie movement - like the hoodie itself - sends mixed signals. Some involved in the protest say we need to do away with hoodies because of the garment's negative association with urban crime. But when you consider how popular the hoodie has become, this just seems ridiculous. Nowadays hoodies are worn by children, suburban parents, grandparents, politicians, off-duty policemen and, occasionally, urban drug dealers. Hoodies are so commonly worn that it's a bit mind-boggling that Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., was thrown off the House floor for wearing one.

So clearly, it's all about what's underneath the hoodie.

"It's all about the demonization of the black male and the creation of this stereotypical image of him walking down the street in a hoodie," hip-hop scholar Hailifu Osumare told CNN. "It happens all the time, and it's what's behind the protests. People don't see it as an isolated incident; they see it as a historic trend."

After this tragedy, white America needs to take a long look in the mirror, and we need to ask ourselves, "Why are we so scared? What is so frightening about a black man wearing a hoodie in an urban setting?"

Sure, in some neighborhoods you will find black men in hoodies who are criminals, but you'll also find many who are honest, law-abiding citizens. We can't judge an entire race and type of sweatshirt based on the actions of a few. Doing so is racist, discriminatory, and it may be the very mistake Zimmerman made the night he killed an unarmed boy.

In short, the hoodie's association with crime is not the sweatshirt's fault - it's our fault. The second problem with the anti-hoodie movement is it's distracting us from the real issues that caused Martin's death and allowed Zimmerman to walk.

 Zimmerman wasn't charged with Martin's murder because of Florida's recently-enacted Stand-Your-Ground law, which essentially allows anyone to shoot first and ask questions later. Florida law states, "A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if ... he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another, or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony."

As this case proved, it's easy for one to react violently under a "reasonable belief" he or she is in danger, when in fact, there is no substantial threat. It's easy for one to willfully commit a violent act, and then hide behind the Stand-Your-Ground law.

 Either way, Florida needs to repeal the Stand-Your-Ground law, and bring charges against Zimmerman.

 Zimmerman's actions were, at best, a case of a trigger-happy vigilante acting violently before thinking. At worst, his actions were an unpunished, racially-motivated killing.

  Regardless of what happened, there are three things we should all take from this tragedy: Martin was killed because of a negative racial stereotype that black men wear hoodies are criminals. A questionable, unsafe law has let a dangerous white man walk after he killed an unarmed black teenager. And this all happened some 50 years after the Civil Rights Era, in the United States of America.


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