Trayvon Martin case: Is hoodie a symbol of menace or desire for justice?

Protesters are donning hoodies in rallies calling for an arrest in the Trayvon Martin case, but others say that wearing a hoodie in the wrong neighborhood puts minority kids at risk.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
People gather at a 'Stand Up for Trayvon Martin' rally in Washington, Saturday. Many participants gathered in all black attire or hoodie sweatshirts, or carried tea and Skittles, in memory of the 17-year-old high school student who was shot and killed last month by a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida.

Did Trayvon Martin’s hoodie contribute to his death? That’s a question now roiling the national discussion of the shooting of the unarmed black teenager by neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman in Florida one month ago Monday.

Geraldo Rivera gave this angle a big boost by writing for Fox News Latino last week that for many people seeing a minority youth wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up generates a certain reaction: scorn or fear.

“If you dress like a hoodlum eventually some schmuck is going to take you at your word," wrote Mr. Rivera.

Mr. Rivera has received a huge reaction, much of it negative, for his assertion that the hoodie killed Martin as surely as his attacker did. The broadcaster and talk show host is not backing down, however.

He says he is talking about an undeniable and unfair aspect of life for minority youths.

“It hurts to be assailed – but anger doesn’t change reality – a minority kid in a hoodie in a hood not his own is a 911 call waiting to happen,” wrote Rivera on his Twitter feed Sunday evening.

Critics say this is akin to blaming women’s tight blouses for rapes. It’s an “absolutely disgusting” assertion, writes Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic.

Perhaps pushed by this argument, many protestors across the US have adopted the hoodie as a symbol of what they feel is the lack of justice in the Martin case, given that it has been a month since the shooting, yet Mr. Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime.

March 25 was “Hoodie Sunday” in many predominantly African-American churches, with clerics and congregants donning the garb. At a vigil in Montgomery, Ala., many attendees wore hoodies and carried ice tea, the drink Martin was carrying when he was shot.  

In New York and Maryland, some state House members planned to wear hoodies on the floor of their legislatures Monday. Organizers of a Monday protest on the steps of the Georgia statehouse were urging attendees to wear hoodies.

Twitter was awash in tweeted photos of celebrities donning hoodies. A much re-tweeted picture showed the Pope in a garment that was hoodie-like.

Meanwhile, Jesse Washington, the Associated Press national writer on race and ethnicity, over the weekend wrote a lengthy piece detailing what he called the “Black Male Code,” the things African-American male youths need to do to stay out of trouble.

Mr. Washington, who is himself black, said that he has sat down with his own 12-year old son in the wake of the Martin killing, and told him that he always has to pay attention to his surroundings, especially if he is in an affluent neighborhood.

“Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes,” wrote Washington.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility, Washington wrote that he told his son.

“Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are,” wrote Washington.

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