From the wreckage of the Trayvon Martin killing, the hoodie has emerged as an unlikely symbol, a silent way of expressing solidarity and anger over justice delayed as protests erupt nationwide over the death of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of a Central Florida neighborhood watch captain who viewed the boy as suspicious.
From a downtown outdoor mall in Iowa City to the expanse of Union Square in New York City, from a historic church in Atlanta to a plaza in Washington, D.C., thousands of demonstrators have been protesting the 17-year-old’s death by donning hoodies like the one Trayvon wore that Sunday night a month ago when he was killed in a gated townhouse community in Sanford. Thousands more have posted, shared and tweeted photos of themselves wearing the hooded jackets. Still others have used Trayvon’s haunting black-and-white image as their own profile pictures on the Internet, creating a boundless digital imprint in a case fueled by social media, the focus intensifying Friday with the release of a Miami Heat photo and a controversial remark by TV personality Geraldo Rivera.
“Before the incident, there was a cultural understanding that the African-American male wore hoodies as a way to be under the radar, to be ambiguous, but not because of any malicious intent, not because he was up to no good,’’ says Jason Campbell, an assistant professor of conflict resolution and philosophy at Nova Southeastern University. “Now, it’s visual shorthand that has transcended, used as a way to say I am lending my voice to the cause. It’s not a black cause, or a male cause, it’s a national cause.’’
Trayvon was wearing a hoodie — and carrying a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea purchased from a nearby convenience store — as he returned to the townhouse of his father’s girlfriend. He had been suspended from high school in Miami and was spending time in Sanford with his father. The shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, told police the boy was wearing a dark hoodie, looked “suspicious” and thought he was “up to no good.’’ He said Trayvon jumped him and he shot in self-defense. The boy died on the grass, 70 yards from the backdoor of the townhouse. Trayvon’s girlfriend, who was on a cellphone with him moments before, said it was not until he noticed he was being followed by a stranger that he cloaked himself with the hood.
In the month since the boy’s Feb. 26 death, with no arrests made, a national social movement has grown, exposing the fault lines of race and exploring what it means to be young, black and wearing a hoodie.
The hooded jacket or pullover — an ubiquitous uniform for the youth, hip-hop and sports worlds, a sideline favorite of New England Patriot Coach Bill Belichick and a casual outfit for Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg — has become a powerful part of the Trayvon Martin narrative. Ordinary citizens, political personalities, athletes and big-name celebrities have joined the cause, posting hooded images of themselves, people as disparate as Oscar winner Jamie Foxx; Marian Wright Edelman, who heads the Children’s Defense Fund; and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Many of the images included simple text, asking “Do I Look Suspicious?” or stating, “I am Trayvon.”
For the newly minted hoodie movement, the goal is both to protest Trayvon’s death and also to take back the clothing item, to remove the sting of its sometimes sinister image.