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Is There a Hood in the Hoodie?

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Thursday, May 5th, 2012

New Orleans, Louisiana


 With summer approaching, I re-arranged my closet last week and put away winter clothes.  In the mix was my hoodie.  This garment has recently become one on of the most controversial pieces of outerwear in the nation.  I wear mine when I exercise outdoors, or when skiing.  And yes, depending on when and where it is worn, a hoodie can put you in harm’s way.  Just ask the Trayvon Martin family.

 The death of this Florida teenager was apparently the result of a tragic convergence of events.  The facts, at least those that are known, have been repeated continually by the news media and by others with various agendas.  Martin, who is a black teenager, was walking in a gated community in the rain, wearing a hoodie.  George Zimmerman, a community watcher, who was either on patrol or on his way back home, sighted Martin.  Zimmerman felt that Martin looked suspicious and called the police.  He was told by the dispatcher that a patrol unit was on the way, and that he should go back to his car and wait.  But Zimmerman didn’t, and Trayvon Martin is dead.

Four issues need some answers.

Is deadly force justified outside the home?  The “Castle Doctrine” is the law in most states allowing the use of deadly force to protect oneself inside his or her own home. But what about outside your home?  Are you obligated to retreat from an attacker, or can you “stand your ground,” even if it’s safe to get away.  In Florida, and in a growing number of states, if you are confronted and feel threatened, but are able to get away, you can go ahead and shoot anyway. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors nationwide, with few exceptions, strongly oppose “stand your ground” laws.  They say these laws make it much harder to prosecute those who kill and claim self defense.  Killings that are deemed legitimate have skyrocketed in Florida following the enactment of the “justifiable killing” law. But with the law enforcement community strongly opposed to this, should the deadly force rule outside one’s home continue?

Should George Zimmerman have backed off?  Of course he should have.  He was specifically told to do so by the police dispatcher.  These instructions, ignored by Zimmerman, would seem to shift the burden to him to prove that he was under attack and in “imminent danger.” He will need a lot of help from the experts analyzing the video that was taken, and by an analysis of the phone message that purports to hear one of the two, either Martin or Zimmerman, crying out for help in order to defend himself.  Without some back up evidence in his favor, Zimmerman will face his current criminal charges and certainly a civil lawsuit.

 Why is there so much press coverage of this particular case?  After all, there are killings of young black males every day.  If you want to see the worst scenario, just monitor the local New Orleans newspaper down here, where I live in Louisiana. There were 200 killings last year, up 14% from the year before.  Those being killed are often young black males.  Why is this killing of such extraordinary interest? Is it because of the racial overtones?  If the young man killed had been white, and the shooter black, would there be the same outcry?

Would California Representative Maxine Waters still be hollering, “hate crime?”Â  Would Reverend Jesse Jackson still be preaching that the young man killed had been “murdered and martyred?”Â  Would Illinois Representative Bobby Rush still go to the microphone in the House chambers wearing a hoodie?  Would Florida Congresswoman Federica Wilson still be charging that “this sweet young boy”¦.was hunted down like a dog, shot on the street, and his killer is still at large?” Zimmerman is being vilified by the national news media on a regular basis.  I’m not defending Zimmerman’s actions. But why this case?  Where is the outrage for the thousands of other murder victims that are barely a blip in the back of the local paper where these killings take place?  Is there a difference in the intensity of outrage depending on whether the victim is white, black or Hispanic?

Is there a stigma that goes with wearing a hoodie?  Read my own personal story and see how you would have reacted.  I was in New Orleans last weekend for a birthday celebration at the Blue Room in Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans.  I was by myself, and left the party around 9:00 pm for a return to Baton Rouge.  I had left my car in a self park garage across from the hotel.  I paid the charges, then headed towards the elevator to take me up to the fourth level where my car was parked.  As I approached the elevator, a young black man, who was already on the elevator alone, held the door for me to get in.  He was wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a hoodie pulled up on his head.  The temperature outside was in the 60s.  I hesitated.

What to do?  There was no one else around.  Do I get on the elevator with him?  Was I in any danger?  They say we should not profile. Hogwash. Of course, I profiled.  I weighed the odds and felt getting on that elevator was just not the safe thing to do to.

I told him:  “Just go ahead.  I’m waiting for someone.”Â  The elevator closed as he looked me square in the eye.  Would I have had the same reaction if the young man had been white or Hispanic? Yes, most definitely.  My main concern?   It was the hoodie. I just didn’t have a safe feeling.

I’m a big basketball fan and follow LeBron James, probably the best player in the NBA.  I saw him recently pictured with sun glasses and a hoodie up over his head.   If I saw him at night walking down a dark street and not recognizing who he was, my antenna would go up.  I would profile and be cautious.  Maybe even retreat.  An overreaction?  Probably.  But what’s the saying?  “Better safe than sorry.”Â  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie.  He’s white and a little guy.  But if the hoodie were pulled up around his head, I would keep my guard up.

People make assumptions.  Yes, they profile.  Would Trayvon Martin be alive today if he were wearing a suit?  Who’s to say?  It may be unfair, but the hoodie didn’t help.

Both blacks and whites still have a great divide to cross over. ”There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life,” Jesse Jackson said several years ago, ”than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — and then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” Does such a comment make Jesse Jackson a racist?

The press and others with an agenda have turned this whole sordid mess into a black-white face-off.   We still have a long, long way to go in reaching a consensus to just get along.  So for the time being, I’m putting away my hoodie.


Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 AM till 11:00 AM, Central Time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com

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