The Hooded Sweathshirt Becomes Unlikely Target

The hooded sweatshirt has become an unlikely but potent symbol since the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Fox's Geraldo Riviera went so far as to say that wearing a hoodie might have contributed to Trayvon's death last month. But for the organizer of the "million hoodie march" in New York, and for many young black men in Florida, wearing a hooded sweatshirt has become a form of protest against racial profiling in the wake of Trayvon's shooting. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

If you're just joining us, you're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. In the four weeks since Trayvon Martin was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, everything about that night has drawn scrutiny, even the hooded sweatshirt Trayvon was wearing.

NPR's Joel Rose reports the humble hoodie is now at the heart of a national conversation about racial profiling.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Trayvon Martin was wearing a gray hoodie the night he was killed, a fact that caught the attention of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. He mentioned it in his now infamous call to a 911 dispatcher.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Did you see what he was wearing?

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a gray hoodie, and...

ROSE: A few minutes later, Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, he claims in self-defense. In the days since that call went public, hoodies have been everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: A show of support Friday by the Miami Heat. LeBron James tweeted a photo of himself and his teammates wearing...

ROSE: The NBA's Miami Heat posed for a photo wearing their team sweatshirts with the hoods up over their heads. Thousands of people took to the streets this week for rallies from Oregon to Florida wearing hoodies as a form of protest against racial profiling. Daniel Maree helped organized the Million Hoodie March in New York City on Wednesday.

DANIEL MAREE: I wanted to destigmatize the hoodie, the hoodie among people of color. And by all of us wearing the hoodie, you know, we're all suspicious, and so we're all a part of the same family.

ROSE: But not everyone thinks the hoodie can be rehabilitated. Fox News host Geraldo Rivera dropped this bomb on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

GERALDO RIVERA: I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was.

ROSE: Speaking on the show "Fox and Friends," Rivera urged parents, especially black and Latino parents, not to let their kids go out wearing hoodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

RIVERA: God bless him. He was an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn't deserve to die. But I'll bet you money, if he didn't have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn't have responded in that violent and aggressive way.

ROSE: Geraldo Rivera wouldn't be the first person to associate hooded sweatshirts with criminal behavior. The mayor of Topeka, Kansas recently proposed banning them in an effort to suppress crime. But the reaction to Rivera's comments was swift and derisive. Rivera's own son tweeted that he was, quote, "ashamed of his dad" and Rivera's suggestion doesn't seem to be going over any better in the Florida town where Trayvon was shot.

DANIEL BELLANY: Everybody wears hoodies. We all wear hoodies over here.

ROSE: Daniel Bellany(ph) is wearing a gray zip up hoodie at a basketball court in downtown Sanford. It's the same park where thousands gathered earlier in the week for a rally that included the Reverend Al Sharpton and Trayvon Martin's parents.

The 22-year-old Bellany says the shooting won't stop him from wearing a hoodie, but 20-year-old Diondre Golden(ph) says he might think twice.

DIONDRE GOLDEN: It'll be in the back of my mind, something that's like, you know, I ain't going to think about every day, all the time, but it's going to be there, you know, that somebody just got killed over a hoodie.

ROSE: People here say wearing a hoodie can draw extra attention from the police. One teenager told me the cops have stopped him just for walking around at night in a hoodie, and he's white. He was playing basketball with a couple of guys named Ace Floyd and Steve Williams who are both black. They say there's a big difference between wearing a hoodie in the street like Trayvon was doing and wearing one into a store where a clerk might have some reason to feel nervous.

ACE FLOYD: It's different when you walk in a store with a hood on.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah. You guys (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: But he's walking down the street with a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea minding his own business. I ain't going to just walk up and shoot him because he got a hoodie on. It's an article of clothing.

ROSE: An article of clothing that's carrying a whole lot of baggage. Joel Rose, NPR News, Sanford, Florida.

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