Are All Hoodies Worn By Criminals?

Send by email
Bob Butler
March 15, 2011

Think about a crime in which the suspect is described as a young man wearing baggy pants and a hooded sweatshirt (hoodie). Does that bring to mind any particular race? It should.

The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education last year launched an initiative to change the way the media reported on boys and men of color.

Coverage of boys and men of color tends to center around crime, sports and entertainment. Not only does this present a distorted image of this particular population, it also serves to instill fear in the wider society.

The description of young males wearing “hoodies" mostly conjures up images of Black suspects.

I Googled the phrase “suspect in a hoodie” and examined the news stories from the first 12 links that came up.

In all but one case the suspects are described as Black or African American, wearing a “hooded sweatshirt” or “a hoodie.” In the one exception there was an armed robbery of a student at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. The suspects were described as a “white male” and two “black males.” All three were wearing “hoodies.”

However hooded sweatshirts are worn by everyone from babies to professionals.

“The problem is that just as the media and police descriptions imprint on our minds the notion that black male equals criminal, so too have they taught us that black male plus hoodie equals imminent danger,” said Dori Maynard, Maynard Institute president.

I am not disputing police assertions that the suspects were mostly Black and all were wearing hoodies. Solely relying on those descriptions, though, can have un-intended consequences on a profoundly personal level.

This kind of dress twice instilled fear in my own neighborhood recently.

I received a handwritten letter in my mailbox from someone (not sure if male or female) calling him or her self a “concerned neighbor.”

The letter stated that they were home at 9:20 in the morning March 11 when someone began pounding on their front door. They “looked out the front window and saw two African American males standing by my mailbox.”

“About 20 minutes later,” the letter continues, “I heard sounds on the side of my house and I thought it was my neighbors. A short while later… I went downstairs because I could feel my house moving. They were checking the windows and doors. I finally found them in my backyard trying to open the door. I screamed at them and they ran away. I ran out my front door to see 3 men running down the street. My first thought was they should have been in school.”

Her only description other than noting they were African American males – “they were young with hoodies on.”

The writer ended with, "So neighbors watch out and pay attention and watch out for each other." There was no name or address. It was signed “concerned neighbor.”

I have no problem with the description of three young African American men wearing hoodies. I’d have no problem calling the police if I saw them – or anyone else – try to break into a neighbor’s house… or my house.

Bob ButlerBut I would like some more details.  It is the “one size fits all” kind of thing that could fit anyone, including me.

In the second case, I had just finished jogging wearing my sweats, complete with a hoodie. I knocked on the front door of my backyard neighbor to discuss repairing our common fence. A neighbor working in his garage called out that she wasn’t at home. He then asked me what I wanted, obviously suspicious. After I explained he understood and we had a good conversation.He admitted the reason he was concerned because I was a stranger wearing a hoodie. I am Black but he did not mention race. He didn’t have to.

But I have no problem with him challenging me. I hope my own neighbors are as vigilant.Bob Butler wearing a hoodie

And I have no problem with those three young males with hoodies being arrested for attempted burglary if the police catch them.

I do have a problem with someone putting an anonymous note in my mailbox with a vague and incomplete description. How can I watch out for the writer if they won't let me know who they are or where they live? And whom exactly am I looking out for?

Rightly or wrongly, the hoodie has become identified with crime. The media  -- and the rest of us -- need to understand that.



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.