One month ago, in Sanford, Florida, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a man who found him ‘suspicious’. Today, many are furious that the man who killed him, George Zimmerman, has not been arrested. Throughout the United States, thousands of people are posting profile photos of themselves wearing hoodies and holding ‘hoodie marches’ to commemorate the young black man, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt when he was killed.
Outrage has grown over the past two weeks after the recording of Zimmerman’s call to the police was released. It revealed that Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer in a gated community, thought Martin might be a burglar because he was walking down the street, looking at houses. He told the police the man was ‘real suspicious’ and that he was black and wearing a hoodie. Martin, it has been reported, was walking back to his father’s fiancée’s house after going out to buy candy at a convenience store. He was unarmed. Though the police told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, he followed the young man and shot him dead.
Zimmerman was taken in for questioning, but was quickly released. No charges were filed against him. His lawyer says he acted in self-defence after Martin attacked him. Amid accusations that the Sanford police department had bungled the case, its chief stepped down last week. The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation to find out how exactly Martin was killed.
As soon as this story was relayed by the media, many people started speculating about whether the fact that Trayvon was wearing a hoodie might have made him look suspicious – rightly or wrongly. Television star Geraldo Rivera weighed in last Friday, saying “the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” He also suggested that parents of black and Latino children should not dress them in hoodies, which, though they are widely worn in the United States, some associate with trouble-making or gang membership. His comments drew widespread criticism, and inspired “hoodie marches” throughout the nation over the weekend, with more planned for the coming week. Churches even got into the action, with several pastors asking their congregants to come to Sunday mass dressed in hoodies.
"Hoodie Sunday" is a video made in honour of Trayvon Martin.
“People immediately started asking, ‘what was Trayvon doing? What was he wearing?’”
Michael Williams, 26, is a law student at Florida State University College of Law. He is the president of the college’s Black Law Student Association.
When I first heard about this case, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a white professor at my school. We were talking about profiling, and I told him, ‘You have less chances of getting arrested wearing a hoodie than I do wearing a suit.’ That’s unfortunately the truth today in the United States. And Trayvon, unfortunately for him, was both black and wearing a hoodie.When the story hit the news, people immediately started asking, ‘what was he doing? What was he wearing?’ As if what a 17-year-old was wearing might justify his getting killed walking home. It’s not so different from cases where people hear a girl was raped and ask, ‘was she wearing a skirt?’ Telling people to stop wearing hoodies, which are just a cheap, warm item of clothing, is not going to solve the problem. I do understand that some parents tell their kids not to dress a certain way to stay on the safe side, but to a larger point, we should probably refocus on stopping people from committing violent acts rather than blaming the victims.“It’s heart-breaking because Trayvon looks just like my young cousin”It’s heart-breaking to me because Trayvon looks just like my young cousin. What’s even more heart-breaking is that this incident did not surprise me. I grew up in Orlando, just a 15 minute drive from Sanford, where Trayvon was killed. From early on, I realised that it was trouble to go to certain parts of town. Being a black man, I just looked like trouble. Driving in nicer areas, I was frequently pulled over by the police, asked where I was coming from, where I was going. It keeps happening to me today. It’s like this for all young black men. And we immediately feel guilty in the policeman’s eyes – my first reaction is to think, what kind of music do I have on the radio? What am I wearing? I don’t want to think this, but I do.“I hope this starts a national conversation about prejudice, so that this precious boy didn’t die in vain”This case is exposing so many racial issues in this country. There is this idea that there is a sort of ‘acceptable black man’, the kind that earns the right to wear a hoodie – a doctor, a lawyer, or in my case, a law student. I can wear a hoodie and Air Jordans to go to class, and no one looks at me and thinks I’m a criminal. But there have been several occasions where I’ve been to the library at night and forgotten my student ID, and even if I’m wearing my backpack and holding books about law, the librarians will see me as this tall black guy with a beard and won’t let me in. This would never happen to my white classmates.The Million Hoodie Marches going on all over the country are great, but I don’t know how long they’ll satiate the public. Trayvon’s attacker is still free, and the anger is escalating to an uncomfortable place. I pray it doesn’t get violent. I hope he is arrested, but more importantly I hope this starts a national conversation about prejudice, so that this precious boy didn’t die in vain.
This video, by artist Tyhem Commodore, features what he imagines to be Trayvon Martin's last moments, using the real tapes of the conversation between the police and George Zimmerman as a soundrack.