Hoodies: Intimate or intimidating

Hoodies—today’s word for a sweatshirt with a hood. They’re comfortable. They’re warm. They keep the rain off your head. And the hood keeps your ears from freezing into tiny blocks of ice. Hoodies have also become a fashion of the times, like bell bottom pants of the 60’s, mini skirts, etc. They’re cool. They’re stylish. And they’re a must-have these days. You know, if you want to “be someone.” And I’m all for kids being kids. I know I was my father’s personal nightmare, with that “hippie” long hair and rock and roll bands I played in. I get it, believe me. Ya’ gotta be cool!

Okay, I admit it. I’m a hoodie fan. An addict. They’re my jackets of choice, and I own and wear several. But I don’t wear them to be cool. Instead, I wear them because they’re comfortable and they keep my head warm without leaving behind the dreaded “hat hair.” Besides, they have those fantastic and easily accessible “glove-pockets” in front. Yes, I love my hoodies.

Unfortunately, those pull-tight hoods are also great for helping bad guys conceal their identities. And they’re absolutely fantastic for covering immediately recognizable characteristics, such as hair style, length, and color. Hoodies are the perfect accessory for hiding scars, marks, and tattoos. They’re also worn to intimidate others. I once dealt with a particular group of juvenile gang members who, when they were about to “beat down” a rival, immediately pulled their hoods up over their heads. It was a sign to other gangs that trouble was brewing. When the leader of the gang covered his head with the hood, well, it was game on—a sign to his followers that it was time to go to war.

Before I go any further I feel I must address the Treyvon Martin situation. Yes, I’ve received hundreds of messages asking my opinion, and until now I’ve remained silent on the issue. And there’s a good reason for my silence…I simply cannot offer a reasonable opinion about a situation I know nothing about. I wasn’t there. I haven’t seen the actual evidence. I haven’t spoken to witnesses. And I absolutely refuse to jump to any conclusions based on media reports and family statements. You see, family members in nearly all criminal cases defend their loved ones, and the media is always trying to sell something. So those are two opinionated sources to avoid like the plague when searching for solid evidence that can be used in a court of law. And isn’t that where we’re supposed to try cases…in court? Not on TV or in the street.

Also, the police and attorneys have jobs to do. So I choose to allow them to do those jobs. If they fail, which I have not seen because I’m not involved in their investigation, and neither is anyone else on the outside, then it would be time to complain. But not now. Investigations take time, often lots of time. I sort of believe in the theory “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Sometimes blowing a lot of hot air around that smoke doesn’t allow it to drift into the right place at the right time. Instead, stand back, let the investigators investigate, and soon the source of the fire comes plainly into view. Remember, an arrest that occurs before its time often ends in  a not-guilty verdict (Casey Anthony, anyone?). No one wants a bad guy to go free, right?

Sure, my heart goes out to the parents of Treyvon. He was their son. Their child. They loved him. And they would love him no matter what.

Same thing with George Zimmerman. His family loves him and will continue to do so no matter what.

But my blog isn’t about the person inside that particular hoodie. Nor is it about the man who shot the wearer of that hoodie.

No, this piece is about THE hoodie. Sure, everyone has a right to wear one, or any other article of clothing, without being judged, profiled, or stereotyped. But it happens, and it happens sometimes, unfortunately, for good reason. And that reason is…lots and lots of bad guys wear hoodies too, and they wear them for a specific purpose. They’re either trying to send a message—to intimidate someone, or they’re wearing one to conceal their identity. I assure you, their motives for wearing hoodies have nothing to do with fashion.

For example:

Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor

Boston

Illinois

Jacksonville

Kansas City

London Rioter

Seattle

Virginia (notice the date)

Vermont

The Unabomber

See what I mean? These for-real bad guys, and woman, all wore hoodies as part of their disguise to commit robberies, murder, or in the case of the protester, destruction of property. Hoodies are indeed associated with bad guys. There’s no way around that statement either. It is what is it is. I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve responded to reports of hoodie-wearing prowlers, burglars, robbers, rapists, attackers, carjackers, home invaders, etc.

Even I’ve been approached by the police because I was wearing a hoodie. Last winter while staying at our home in N.C. during the Christmas holidays, I went outside at midnight, in a snowstorm, to brush heavy snow off the branches of some newly planted trees. I had the hood of my sweatshirt (I know, I’m old-fashioned), pulled tight to keep out the bitterly cold air, and, well, a neighbor saw me out there with a flashlight and called the police. Two deputies responded and said they’d received a report of a large hoodie-wearing man prowling around our yard.

I’m telling you, it’s the hoodie, people! There’s definitely a perception that they’re associated with crime!

Even the next two images give two starkly different impressions.

Sure goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, huh? But some people do give us reason to judge, like the robbers in the photos above. Well, except for Taylor Swift. The only thing she’s guilty of stealing is hearts…

  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Michele, and for your insight into the Martin case. I’m curious, have you been involved in the criminal justice system, as an employee or otherwise? I ask because I noticed you have a slight misconception about how things operate.

    Police officers don’t have the power/authority to “un-arrest” someone. Once they make an arrest and bring in the bad guy, they’ve done their job. The only thing left for them to do at that point is to testify in court. Anything that happens to a suspect after arrest, regarding detention or release, is out of the police department’s hands. Instead, it is up to a prosecutor whether or not to proceed with charges. Of course, a judge or magistrate could also refuse to issue the warrant.

    By the way, an investigator is a police officer. Therefore, it seems (I wasn’t there so I don’t know for sure) the police did exactly what everyone wanted them to do, which was arrest and attempt to charge Zimmerman with murder/manslaughter, or something similar. We all saw the video where they brought him in in handcuffs. At that point he was not free to leave. He was under arrest, it seems. It was, however, the prosecutor who chose not to proceed at that point. BUT, that doesn’t mean the prosecutor didn’t plan to pursue charges. Not at all, and this happens all the time with suspects of all skin colors/races – prosecutors want to gather more concrete evidence than what is initially presented to them. They often let crooks go (when the cases are very weak) and then ask investigators to bring them more, because it’s best to have “all your ducks in a row” when presenting a case to the court. After all, you only have one shot at getting a conviction.

    Now, unfortunately, the media and everyone from all sides have done real harm to the prosecution’s case against Zimmerman, if there is to be one. There is so much turmoil surrounding this case now I doubt we’ll ever see a conviction, nor will we ever learn the real truth as to what to happened that night. You see, now that all the hoopla is out there for the world to see, Zimmerman, if guilty, now has every opportunity to change and alter his story to fit his needs, and he knows exactly what’s coming. Bad moves on everyone’s part.

    Also, if that particular police department is, as you and others say, “crooked,” and I highly doubt an entire department is against all black and brown people, they, too, now have the opportunity to cover their tracks.

    Knee-jerk reactions are never a good thing. Had people let this investigation take its proper course I think the results would have been more favorable to everyone concerned. Now there are problems that I just don’t believe can be fixed. As I said, if Zimmerman is indeed guilty of a crime, it’ll now be harder to convict him.

  2. Michele
    Michele says:

    The problem wit the Treyvon Martin case isn’t the media. The problem isn’t even whtehr Zimmerman is guilty (that will have to be decided by a jury). No- the problem is that the police department involved didn’t check to see who this teenaged John Doe might be, and ignored the investigator who said there was enough evidence to charge Zimmerman. In other words, they were going to let this death (again, the courts will decide if it’s murder) slide, and that department has a history of treating black people like second-class citizens.
    If the media hadn’t gotten involved this death would have gone unnoticed, as do the rapes, deaths and kidnappings of many young black and brown people. One does not have to have been there to suspect that a miscarriage of justice might have been happening.

  3. Finn Jackson
    Finn Jackson says:

    My local department recently apprehended a gang of five who’d done a day-time smash and grab at a small jewelry store. The chief told me they all wore hoodies snugged tight, but when interviewed, one explained it was to keep from dropping hair at the scene. Gotta love it. Wonder which iteration of CSI they got that gem from? Hoodies: gang-banger DNA protection. Don’t leave home without ’em.

  4. Linda C. McCabe
    Linda C. McCabe says:

    Lee,
    This was a great post. I am glad you showed both sides of the hoodie “controversy.”

    The other day when I was standing at the grocery counter checkout line, I saw Treyvon Martin on the cover of People magazine. I asked my thirteen year old son if he had heard about the case. He had, but didn’t know much about it. I gave him the basic facts that a seventeen year old boy was shot dead while walking in a gated community and that he was unarmed, (unless you count a bag of Skittles and a cell phone) and that the man responsible for the shooting was not arrested. My son’s jaw dropped.

    Then I went into what I understood about the Florida “stand your ground” law. I also brought up Geraldo Rivera’s comment about hoodies. My son laughed. He was at the time, wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood on his head. Later, he cracked jokes with various people about him being a threat to society due to wearing a hoodie.

    I keep wondering though, why haven’t I heard any of the comedians such as Stewart and Colbert mentioning the guy most associated with wearing hoodies and who poses biggest threat to our way of life as we know it?

    Namely Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg!

  5. NikeChillemi
    NikeChillemi says:

    Here in Gotham (NYC) citizens learn to size up a hoodie wearing individual quickly…and determine just as quickly if a reaction is required.

    A young pony-tailed woman in a pink jogging outfit with a matching hoodie will probably get no more than a passing glance.

    A young male (of any color) with his pants around his lower hips, his undies out, dark shades, and a hoodie is another matter. Two or more such males may warrant caution.

  6. Maggie Toussaint
    Maggie Toussaint says:

    Hi Lee,
    I joined the hoodie trend late and I own several. One hoodie is a teeshirt fabric, and it’s become my go-to sleeping attire. I hope they don’t get outlawed because of their criminal connotation. That would be just my luck – jump on the fashion trend and have it be outlawed.
    Great, provocative post.
    Maggie

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Great post, Lee.

    Those like “Bryn” who don’t cross the streets just in case with ALL hoodie wearers (regardless of race or age or sex) are extremely foolish however IMHO. The banks have it right for caution and in my opinion should fix the doors so that they cannot go in until the outfit is removed.

    But there’s never a need to be wearing a hoodie and peering in houses in horridly hot Florida in March so whatever is true of the rest of the Zimmerman/Martin case the phone call to report a suspicious character was justified.

    The people who rushed to judgment in the Martin case will be the very first ones whining when no one in their neighborhoods will so much as call the police to report anything suspicious in the future.

    I would be greatly interested in your thoughts on why no one in the New Black Panther Party has been arrested as a terrorist for putting out a fatwa/hit on George Zimmerman.

  8. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Great post, Lee. Of course, now I have the image of you crusing the beach in a hoodie. I personally can’t stand anything on my head. Never could. Drove my mom crazy with Jersey winters.

    How did you get the dog to no only pose, but to wear the hoodie? Adorable. My cat…no way! I guess she’s like me. lol

  9. Bryn
    Bryn says:

    If I see someone walking towards me with a hoodie up and head down (he or she) I don’t panic and run to the other side of the street. If someone is wearing a hoodie when the moon or sun is up definitely doesn’t mean its warm. Many criminals wear sunglasses, should everyone wearing sunglasses be feared?? I think not. In college towns I visit for such colleges as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and others, if I see someone walking toward me with a hoodie up and his or her head down (and the sun or moon bright in the sky), oftentimes they’re thinking about a class or boyfriend/girlfriend and not about wantonly pillaging the next person walking past them. Many people on a 80 degree day at the beach or elsewhere with burning sun’s rays have a lightweight zipped hoodie, top up, to avoid sunburn — myself included. I’ve seen those for children as well. Anyone calling the cops on that in my opinion has too much time on their hands. It’s time to concentrate on real criminals and not villifying people who wear hoodies please and thank you.

  10. wraith808
    wraith808 says:

    @GunDiva – and the thing about it is these well-meaning johnny-come-lately’s make it a lot harder for the police and prosecutors to do their jobs. What are the chances that any conviction against Zimmerman at this point if he is indeed guilty will hold up to scrutiny? According to the testimony of only person on the scene (him) they had to let him go according to law. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t more investigation going on behind the scenes- sometimes people who are let off get arrested and tried later. Let the system work. And if he is innocent, let him get on with his life. And if he is guilty, let him be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Both of these outcomes have been made less likely (not more) by this media blitz.

  11. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    What I *have* noticed is that those who are using the hood to stay warm or keep the rain off will almost unconsciously remove the hood upon entering a building.

    I’m so glad to read what you had to say about the Martin/Zimmerman case – unless “you” (media, public) are involved with investigating the case STFU, because you don’t know anything about it. It makes me sick to see how many cases are tried and convicted by the media rather than in a court of law.

  12. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Bryn – You won’t hear me condemn anyone for wearing a hoodie. I wear them too. However, your statement about a “very small” number of people using them for illegal purposes tells me that you’re on the right side of the law. Because that number is by no means a small one.

  13. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Elizabeth. Speaking only for myself, I “checked out” people when responding to a description given by a witness, etc., and when someone was somewhere they shouldn’t be, like climbing out of a window or running from me – hood or no hood.

    The photos above show criminals wearing hoodies as part of disguise. I’ve encountered many bad guys who simply wore the hoodie too.

  14. Maryann Mercer
    Maryann Mercer says:

    Living in a college town means seeing lots and lots of hoodies…pink, orange, blue, purple, black, mostly worn by students trying NOT to have to carry umbrellas with them as they trudge across campus. Still, if I see someone walking toward me with a hoodie up and his head down (and the sun or moon bright in the sky), I tend to want to cross the street. Hoodies don’t make people bad, but bad people are definitely giving hoodies a bad name. And Lee, as for the hat hair (or whatever you want to call it), I can’t avoid it even IN a hoodie. Sigh. Dead giveaway that something’s amiss? A zipped hoodie, top up, on an 80 degree day. I’d call the cops on that.

  15. Bryn
    Bryn says:

    I love hoods and have always loved them since childhood. I have hooded coats, sweatshirts, sweaters, jackets, etc. Never have I ever considered wearing a hood a sign of criminality. There are millions of people who wear hoods and hoodies and because there are a very small number of those using them for illegal purposes should by no means condem everyone who wears them.

  16. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    “But I don’t wear them to be cool.”
    Well, duh. You’re already waaay too cool!!! 😉

    Here’s the thing. Your story notwithstanding, most of your pictures show a covered face as well as a hoodie, and I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts (sorry, I know) that eight out of ten plain hoodie wearers checked out by the police or of concern to the general public are young, male minorities.

    I am sometimes guilty of this awful presumption myself. Although, my reaction to the orange hooded stranger was to kiss its nose!

  17. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I believe a zippered front also counts. And, by the way, that’s all I wear (those with zippered fronts). Too much trouble to pull the things over my head.

  18. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    I have a hoodie! Kinda’.

    Mine zips up the front. Does that count?

    Officers who stop someone based solely on the fact they are wearing a hoodie are asking for trouble. Unless other facts exist, as in your case Lee, where a neighbor saw a suspicious person at night and the hoodie was used as part of the physical description given to officers, then hoodie wearers should be left alone.

  19. Donnell
    Donnell says:

    Lee, thank you for summing up this case beautifully and for not jumping to conclusions. The idea that we try a case in public opinion, and TWEET people’s address so that we call upon lynch mobs and vigilantes, I’m wondering why this only demands an apology and not a criminal penalty. I, too feel for the parties involved, but people have reacted hysterically and nonsensically. I’m appalled. Cute puppy. Reasonable blog. Thanks.

  20. Rick
    Rick says:

    I just saw the Unabomber pic and thought I had scrolled down too quick.

    Still, I think you are correct, just by wearing a piece of clothing doesn’t make someone a criminal but we in the real world we do know that some pieces of apparel are favored by thugs.

  21. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Elizabeth – Now, if we could just get the bad guys to start following rules…

    Rick – I’ve added the Unabomber. I got lazy and quit posting photos. There are probably thousands more we could post.

  22. Rick
    Rick says:

    Lee, absolutely spot on post.

    You did forget arguably the most infamous hoodie criminal pic—the sketch of the Unabomber in his hoodie prior that was circulated for years before he was identified.

  23. Lesley
    Lesley says:

    My son asked for a non-hooded sweatshirt for Christmas last year — he doesn’t like them. (And believe me, here in Canada, I use them myself all the time to keep my head warm) That’s when I found out that it’s nearly impossible to find a sweatshirt or sweater without a hood. Maybe the garment industry needs to start offering some choices too…

  24. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    The banks here have a NO HOODS.. NO HATS.. NO SUNGLASSES policy posted on all the doors.