Racism and the hoodie

The Trayvon Martin story — he’s the kid who got killed for no good reason in Florida — has reached the “I’ve got nothing left to write, so I’ll just write something stupid” phase that many national issues reach.

The barometer for this is Geraldo Rivera, who blames the fact the kid was wearing a hoodie:

Remember when my friend and colleague the estimable Juan Williams got fired from NPR for saying that Muslims formally garbed freaked him out at airports? Juan is among America’s sharpest commentators. He wasn’t justifying his reaction, he was copping to it. Maybe shock therapy or a semester of sensitivity training could change it, otherwise It is what it is.

No one black, brown or white can honestly tell me that seeing a kid of color with a hood pulled over his head doesn’t generate a certain reaction, sometimes scorn, often menace.

When you see that kid coming your way, unless you specifically recognize him you are thinking ghetto or ghetto wannabe high-style or low-brow wise-ass. Pedestrians cross the street to avoid black or brown hoodie wearers coming their way.

Because this is a teachable moment let me speak plainly.

Whatever Reverends Sharpton and Jackson say in Florida Friday, after listening to the 911 tapes and hearing the witness’ testimonials, I believe Trayvon Martin would be alive today but for his hoodie.

What Rivera doesn’t acknowledge, however, is this: You don’t get to kill people because you’re afraid of them. You don’t get permission to shoot people because they dress like someone else who you don’t like. So, no, his hoodie didn’t get the young man killed.

Here’s an interesting picture that’s sweeping the Internet today.


Are you “suspicious” of them?

Check the picture “below the fold”


(Photo: NewBlackMan)

  • A minority kid wearing a hoodie is just asking to be hunted-down and shot to death by a gun-totin’ neighborhood-watch captain seems kind of like a provacatively dressed woman is just asking to be assaulted. How stupid is Rivera? Geeze!

  • Ah, yes. Blame the article of clothing. It reminds me of my high school days when the school administrators thought they could reduce gang violence by enforcing a No Hat policy. Of course, it didn’t reduce anything except the level of respect we kids had for the front office.

    How Geraldo can say with any certainty that the hoodie is to blame, when Zimmerman might have found a young black man in a ball cap just as suspicious, is outrageous. I believe the child would be alive if it weren’t for some over-zealous neighborhood watchman incapable of letting the police do their job.

  • Craig

    Actually, the “castle doctrine” does mean that (in effect, if not spelled out literally): you _do_ get to kill people simply because you are afraid of them.

    That’s why many of us do not support it.

  • Drew Salisbury

    Geraldo is right in saying that we are conditioned to think “criminal” when we see a person of color dressed a certain way. And when I say “we,” I am not just talking about white people. The misperception that crimes are frequently committed by young black men in baggy clothes and backwards baseball hats has a pervasive history in our country that’s been around for long before there was media to perpetuate and promote it (well, maybe not the baggy clothes and baseball hats part, but at least the idea that minorities are most likely to commit crimes).To pretend that this misperception didn’t in some way influence Zimmerman’s twisted actions is a mistake.

    However, a GREATER mistake is to think the answer to this is “young black men, don’t wear hoodies,” rather than, “everybody else, challenge and combat your baseless misperceptions.” Putting responsibility for this tragic death on Trayvon or Trayvon’s family is disgusting. The blame lies with Zimmerman, and if anything else, the culture we live in that caused Zimmerman to see Trayvon and think “This young man looks suspicious. I better follow him. With my gun.”

  • Bob Collins

    //you _do_ get to kill people simply because you are afraid of them.

    No, it doesn’t. And I refer you back to the 199X ruling in Minnesota by the state Supreme Court which created the castle doctrine and defined what it does and does not do.

    In the law recently vetoed, the standard of a “threat” is defined by “reasonableness” of that threat. Simply being afraid of someone does not in any way constitute a reason.

  • Chris Hahn

    I’m trying to figure out the reference to Juan Williams. Is Rivera trying to justify the remarks he knows he’s going to take heat for?

    Do we need some way of tagging an article with: i’m going to lay down an opinion that is offensive but reporters should be allowed to carry offensive opinions.

  • Jeff

    Well put, Drew.

    In 2008 I was going around my St. Paul neighborhood, from car to car, on election-day eve. I was wearing an Obama t-shirt. I was putting “remember to vote and here is where you go to do it” material on each car. I suddenly heard someone running up from behind me. Before I could turn around, I was tackled and thrown down to the street. My assailant, probably 50 lbs. more than me, stood over me, shouting, “Get on your back! Get on your back!” “I am on my back!” I replied. “Get on your back!” “I am on my back!” “Get on your stomach!” I complied, not knowing if I was about to have a boot slammed into the back of my head. Thankfully some neighbors came out of their house with a cell phone. “Call 911! I caught this guy trying to steal cars!” “Yes, please call 911!” I yelled. “I’m being attacked!” I explained what I was doing, pointing out that I was carrying information about voting and that it was election-day eve. My attacker wouldn’t listen to me. Thankfully the police soon arrived, saw what was happening, helped me clean my wounds and let us both go. At their urging I didn’t file any charges. “We don’t want to discourage citizens from being concerned and trying to stop crimes” they told me. My attacker wasn’t a concerned citizen. He was a reckless vigilante and a threat to the safety of everyone in the neighborhood. Thank goodness he didn’t have a gun or I probably would have been shot in the back.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Rivera is partially right.And his account of what happened to Juan Williams is useful.

    There is a significant difference between DESCRIPTION and PRESCRIPTION.

    Rivera is DESCRIBING a plausible, partial reality. Right or wrong, consciously or not, many of us affiliate hoodies with gang garb.

    He is not PRESCRIBING that that is the way things should be.

    When people are emotionally aroused, as is understandable in light of this absurd murder, our anger overrides the analytic part of our brains and we interpret description as prescription.

    And then there’s the prejudice that many of us have against Rivera because he’s an egomaniac.

    But what he is saying makes some sense.

  • Bob Collins

    Change “man” to “woman.” Change “killing” to “rape.” Change “hoodie” to “what she was wearing.” And see if it still makes some sense.

  • Kassie

    Jeff, I sure as hell would have pressed charges. I live in Minneapolis and have been taught that you call the police when you see suspicious activity. You don’t confront the people and you sure don’t touch them.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – “Change “man” to “woman.” Change “killing” to “rape.” Change “hoodie” to “what she was wearing.” And see if it still makes some sense.”

    Touche’. No it doesn’t.

    But that’s a slippery slope argument. And the problem with slippery slope arguments is that they help us to justify our irrational, extreme response to a real event ( in this case, Rivera’s comments) based on what might happen in a worse case scenario.

    Drew’s insightful comment of “However, a GREATER mistake is to think the answer to this is “young black men, don’t wear hoodies,” rather than, “everybody else, challenge and combat your baseless misperceptions.” is great.

    Except I would change “baseless misperceptions” to “prejudices”, which in fact often have a base in painful personal experience.

  • Bob Collins

    What Rivera is describing is racism. You can blame a hoodie or anything else, but its core is racism. This is typical of the way we discuss racism in the country, of course. We can’t even call it what it is. Which is kind of pathetic in its own way.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – “This is typical of the way we discuss racism in the country, of course. We can’t even call it what it is. Which is kind of pathetic in its own way.”

    Well said.

    Regrettably, I must shamefully admit I’m a “hoodiest.” Try as I might to overcome my fashion prejudice, I would be tempted to shoot Patriots coach Bill Belichick if he was walking through my neighborhood. This, in spite of the fact that I think he’s the best in the business.

    ( My dark humor in no way indicates that I take this tragic event lightly. Rather, it means that I’m done with this topic 🙂

  • BenCh

    Times like these always spawn great internet responses, like “Geraldo in a Hoodie”.