We Shouldn't Be Focusing on Trayvon Martin's Hoodie

It's the prejudice, not the attire, that should arouse suspicion.

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When did hoodies become synonymous with hoods?

Trayvon Martin looked suspicious to George Zimmerman as the neighborhood watch captain followed the slain teen (against the direction of a 911 operator) in Florida. A Justice Department investigation is underway to determine what happened (and the lynch mob mentality that's emerging against Zimmerman is no better than the quick judgment by authorities that Zimmerman shot Martin in self defense). There are many unanswered questions: Did Martin assault Zimmerman? Does the newly-enhanced police video really show Zimmerman with a gash on his head? Did Zimmerman actually utter a racial slur when he called 911? Is Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law the culprit, or is it being misused to justify an unjustifiable shooting?

[Read the U.S. News debate: Are 'Stand Your Ground' Laws a Good Idea?]

But it's the attention to clothing—and questions about whether Martin should have been wearing a hoodie—that are most perplexing and which are extremely disturbing.

"This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something," Zimmerman told a 911 operator minutes before the shooting

Hooded sweatshirts are not, in and of themselves, indicators of an intention to commit a crime. College students and athletes across the country wear them. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick wears one so often that his nickname is "Hoodie." You don't see anyone trying to shoot Belichick over his attire, although arguably he's acquired a few more detractors over the years (being snarly even when you win lots of Super Bowls will do that).

[See editorial cartoons about the Trayvon Martin tragedy]

Now, it's true that attire can raise suspicion, but only in extreme cases. Someone walks into my bar in the middle of summer in a ski mask, I get worried. But a hoodie? Or is it just a hoodie on a black teenager that gets people suspicious?

Women, of course, are subjected to the same judgments about their attire, with juries and the public at large wondering if a woman's short skirt or tight sweater meant she was "asking" to be raped or assaulted. And it's not a commonsense safety equation, either—a well-dressed man, donning an expensive watch and practically advertising the fact that he has a lot of money, is not blamed for his own mugging. The rules of attire seem to be limited to women and minority youth—except that women, apparently, are expected to cover up to avoid becoming the victims of crime, while black teenagers must keep their heads and faces easily visible. Rep. Bobby Rush—whose own son died in a shooting—was escorted off the House floor for wearing a hooded sweatshirt. It's the prejudice, not the attire, that should arouse suspicion.

  • Vote: Should Bobby Rush Have Been Kicked off the House Floor for Wearing a Hoodie?
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