What About Those Hoodies?
By Tibor Machan - April 12, 2012

Over the last couple of weeks I have been waiting for something to be mentioned about hoodies, something that I thought was staring us all in the face. This is that during the recent London riots, nearly everyone depicted by the TV cameras was wearing hoodies as they were caught vandalizing the stores in the neighborhood under siege.

At the time, it immediately occurred to me that the reason for all those hoodies on the heads of the rioters was that they didn't want their faces to be captured on film. This would make it very difficult for investigators to do any facial recognition of those filmed committing vandalism.

Actually, I didn't encounter such an explanation at the time, nor since then, after the role the hoodie had in the Florida fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, the African-American teen, a shooting that has unleashed much controversy about hoodies, starting with Fox star reporter Geraldo Rivera's on-air advice that people stop wearing them since doing so suggests to some people that they are embarking on some kind of criminal conduct. Rivera got a lot of flack for making this suggestion and that is when it occurred to me that someone prominent might recall the role of hoodies at the London riots, which were covered on American television for nearly a week. After what we witnessed in London, it would not be ridiculous for people to be wary of young people who wear hoodies in certain situations.

To this day I haven't heard anyone connect the two events, although some have mentioned that hoodies are perhaps used to send a message, namely that of defiance of public authority. And numerous celebrities followed the Rivera comments with donning hoodies, though I am not sure for what reason.

I am not suggesting that there is any simple causal relationship between criminal conduct and the wearing of hoodies. But there could be a customary relationship here, one on the basis of which ordinary people, even professionals, may make inferences about probabilities or likelihoods. If someone shows up in my classroom wearing the kind of sunglasses that disguise his or her eyes, making it impossible to tell which way the individual is looking, it is not unreasonable to suspect that he or she is hoping to remain at least partially incognito. Similarly, when hoodies are worn in neighborhoods that are infested with crime, it is not unreasonable to suspect that those doing this wish to remain at least partially unobserved beneath a cover.

Again, none of this proves, even strongly suggests, that young Mr. Martin intended to hide anything, let alone that he meant to carry out some kind of illegal conduct without being easily identified. But that this might be what he was trying to do is certainly reasonable to consider, especially in light of the experience of the London rioters who were quite evidently committing vandalism while making sure they couldn't easily be identified doing so.

My point here is only that it would be journalistically appropriate to make note of these matters as the Florida shooting is being seriously discussed across the country. Maybe the reason no mention is being made of the resemblance isn't a mere oversight. Perhaps it is because mentioning the similarity between Mr. Martin's attire and that of the London rioters is something public figures do not want to risk doing lest they be accused of racial prejudice. But, of course, it need not be anything like that at all.

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