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The Use of Hoodies in Support of Trayvon Martin is Virtuous, But also Misguided

March 27, 2012

When Geraldo Rivera commented that Trayvon Martin’s hooded sweatshirt was as much to “blame” for the 17-year-old’s death as George Zimmerman, the man who pulled the trigger, masses of people – of all races – were rightfully incensed. Of course, there is nothing inherent about a hoodie on its face that could ever serve as an excuse to gun down an individual.

The hoodie became a symbol of Martin’s death, representing a stance against racism and a visual petition for Zimmerman’s arrest. Photos of individuals wearing the sweatshirts popped up everywhere on Facebook and Twitter. Celebrities, athletes, and even Senators on the Senate floor, have all donned hoodies in support of the cause.

Standing up against racial stereotyping is noble cause that will always have my support, but the hoodie is not the best symbol to represent this cause. 

Trayvon Martin was not killed because he wore a hoodie. He was allegedly killed in self-defense. Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a person is entitled to use deadly force, without a requirement to retreat, if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. According to Zimmerman, Martin punched him in the nose (allegedly breaking it), and proceeded to beat him on the ground, at which point Zimmerman shot him in self-defense.

This is not to say that Zimmerman should not be arrested. There is still a valid question as to whether Zimmerman – who was following Martin because he looked “suspicious” – was the initial aggressor, which would bar him from using the Stand Your Ground defense. After all, Martin was unarmed and carrying only an Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles.

It very well could be that Zimmerman improperly stereotyped Martin because of his hoodie, leading to a tragic death. According to reports, it was raining that night, which is obviously an appropriate moment for someone to wear their hood up.

But that does not mean that hoodies, in certain situations, cannot cause reasonable apprehension.

People may consciously choose to wear a hoodie before committing crimes because it effectively hides their faces and distinguishing features.

Since I started at Case Western Reserve University School of Law this year, I have received seven security alerts about students getting held up on campus for money or other valuables. Five of those seven alerts involved individuals with “hooded sweatshirts.”

If it is not cold or raining, seeing an individual with their hood up may reasonably lead someone to fear they are wearing it for ulterior motives, regardless of their race, because the hoodie is no longer serving its functional purpose.

For a more extreme analogy of how apprehension over an article of clothing can change in a given circumstance, look at the different reactions to a person wearing a ski mask on a ski slope versus the inside of a bank.

The reasons underlying the hooded support of Trayvon Martin are virtuous. The welcomed acceptance and widespread reach of those supporting these values is inspiring.

But the symbol behind the movement — an article of clothing with logical ties and connections to violence — is misguided.

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