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'Hoodie arrest' aftermath and racial profiling allegations at Memphis mall

By Published: November 27, 2018 4:58 PM CT

Kevin McKenzie and Montavious Smith will be in court next month after they were arrested at a Memphis mall over an incident that centered around a hoodie.

McKenzie’s video of the incident on Nov. 3 went viral and sparked interest and conversations nationwide about the “hoodie arrest” at Wolfchase Galleria Mall.

“I mean, in what planet does a young 22-year-old going to shop end up in handcuffs and an old 59-year-old going to shop end up in handcuffs,” McKenzie asked in a recent interview about his arrest. “Why is the criminal justice system being earnest to enforce, with handcuffs and court and jail, what strikes me as a discriminatory policy of a mall.”

Smith, who along with his other three friends, were reportedly told by mall security to leave the property for refusing to remove the hoods on their hoodies. They were escorted out and then came back in the mall. McKenzie witnessed the confrontation and began recording it with his phone. Smith and McKenzie are both charged with criminal trespass because police said they refused to leave the mall property.

Proponents of these types of policies say the hooded sweatshirts are prohibited for safety reasons at shopping centers, schools and other public spaces, but opponents say the bans and policies equate to racial profiling of people of color, mostly African-American men.

“The hoodie has become criminalized because of the desire to live in this post-racial type of society, meaning that I can’t come out now and say what I really want to say, so I have to use code words and dog whistles,” said Dr. Andre Johnson, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Memphis. “So, it is not just the hoodie by itself. It is the hoodie worn on a black body.”

Anti-hoodie regulations over the years have cropped up not only in the United States, but worldwide.

In Australia, police in Wynnum, Brisbane launched “hoodie free” zones where store owners can ask anyone in a hoodie to leave their business.

When school started this year in Erie, Pennsylvania, students were banned from wearing hoodies by the school district, which said it was a safety measure.

In 2015, Oklahoma tried to join the 10 other states that have banned hoodies from being worn in public spaces, but the proposed law that would have fined people $500 for such a violation never passed.


“The hoodie has become criminalized because of the desire to live in this post-racial type of society, meaning that I can’t come out now and say what I really want to say, so I have to use code words and dog whistles. So, it is not just the hoodie by itself. It is the hoodie worn on a black body.”
Dr. Andre Johnson, University of Memphis assistant professor


There are 10 states, including Florida and California, where wearing hoodies in a public space is now against the law.

But some question whether these policies and bans have gone too far.

“I know that some states have tried to limit people’s attire over the hoodies and the sagging pants, for example, but at the same time it can really counter or challenge freedom of expression with the clothing that you wear,” said Dr. K.B. Turner, head of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Memphis, “so states have to be very careful in passing those laws and I’m not sure that they will sustain the constitutional muster when it comes to restricting one’s attire.

“I think it is a result of in the last decade you began to see depictions of minority youth wearing hoodies and unfortunately, because of some of the music videos that also depicted violence with it, that carried over to reality for some,” Turner said.

Under the hoodie

Hoodies have been around since the 1930s in the United States when Champion Athletic Apparel Co. made the garment to help athletes stay warm and for employees working in freezing warehouses in upstate New York.

Since then, the hooded sweatshirts have evolved into simply “hoodies.” The apparel gained coolness status when Rocky Balboa in the 1976 movie “Rocky” was filmed running in a gray hooded sweatshirt and when hip-hop artists from LL Cool J to the Wu-Tang Clan in the 1980s and 1990s donned hoodies on album covers and in videos.

Hoodies made headlines for another reason after Trayvon Martin, a black, unarmed 17-year-old, was shot to death in 2012 in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, a white/Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer.

Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of murder and lesser charges in the case, said he pursued Martin because he assumed the hoodie-clad teenager was a criminal. Zimmerman claimed self-defense in shooting Martin.

“Million Hoodie” marches in honor of Martin sprung up around the country and celebrities including NBA star LeBron James donned the hooded apparel to pay homage to the slain teenager.

Six years later, the Nov. 3 arrest of McKenzie, a former Commercial Appeal reporter, and 22-year-old Millington resident Montavious Smith over a hoodie worn at Wolfchase Galleria in Cordova have brought the hooded sweatshirt newfound attention.

Wolfchase is owned by Simon Property Group. Its code of conduct policy does not say hoodies cannot be worn in the mall, it just says patrons have to “wear appropriate clothing.” It also says “no photographs or video recordings of any kind for commercial use.”

In its statement on the Nov. 3 incident, the mall said: “Wolfchase Galleria is focused on providing a safe environment for all customers and employees. We require customers to not conceal their identity while on mall property as a matter of public safety. It is important that our security cameras and security personnel be able to see the faces of everyone on property. Mall security personnel respectfully ask all customers concealing their identity to conform to the policy.”

The mall issued a new statement on Nov 28: 

“Wolfchase Galleria does not have a policy against hooded garments. In fact, our retailers sell a wide-range of hooded garments. We do ask our shoppers not to conceal their identities while on mall property for security reasons.  Our focus is on the safety of all shoppers.  Mall security personnel respectfully ask all customers concealing their identity to conform to the policy. Police are only called if a customer refuses the request or becomes belligerent.”

Simon Property Group would not comment further.

Three other large shopping malls in the greater Memphis area, Southland Mall, Tanger Outlets in Southaven and Southaven Towne Center, did not respond to emails or phone calls about the code of conduct or dress code policies at their properties.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said it had no comment about these types of policies.

“Wolfchase Galleria is focused on providing a safe environment for all customers and employees. We require customers to not conceal their identity while on mall property as a matter of public safety. It is important that our security cameras and security personnel be able to see the faces of everyone on property. Mall security personnel respectfully ask all customers concealing their identity to conform to the policy.”

Statement from Wolfchase Galleria regarding the Nov. 3, 2018, incident

Amanda Bolton, with Carriage Crossing shopping center in Collierville, said in an email that “Carriage Crossing is committed to providing an enjoyable shopping environment for our community.”

She attached a copy of the mall’s code of conduct for dress-related policies. In the policy, it states that “appropriate attire should be worn at all times. Shirt, shoes are required; no exposed underwear or baggy pants below the waist, for example. Gang-related dress and activities are prohibited.”

Memphis activist Rev. Earle Fisher, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Whitehaven, said these policies are discriminatory.

“This is part of a deeper, longer, pervasive reality in terms of what it means to black people to be able to be free in public spaces,” Fisher said. “What’s tragic about this, again, is we’re talking about a space where somebody should do the research to see how much money black people spend at Wolfchase. And so are they really concerned about what people are wearing or are they concerned about whether or not people are spending their money.”

Shortly after the arrests of McKenzie and Smith at Wolfchase, four white women decided to test the mall’s policy and donned hoodies.

One of the women, Shannon Arthur, posted on Facebook about the day she and her white friends went to Wolfchase.

“If a security guard spotted us with our hoods up, they very politely asked us to take them down. One guard said it was because they need to be able to identify everybody’s faces. So, we said, ‘Sure,’ took them down, walked on, put the hoods back up a bit later. Repeat. No threats. Point made.”

In a recent telephone interview, Arthur she said applauds McKenzie and Smith for taking a stand.

“Regardless of what happened with these two men, I live here and we know that this type of thing happens all the time and we don’t like it and we are sick of it,” she said. “The only way this kind of thing is going to change and innocent young men are going to stop being harassed is if people like us stand up and say this is not OK.”

McKenzie said he loved what the women did.

“It makes me feel like this is what citizens are supposed to do,” McKenzie said. “We are supposed to look out for each other. “



Topics

Wolfchase Galleria racial profiling Memphis
Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones covers criminal justice issues and general assignment news for The Daily Memphian. She previously was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal.


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