In a perfect world, black people wouldn’t face incessant discrimination over our choice of dress, dialect, impeccable seasoning prowess, or how we chose to do our hair.
But because certain occupants of “The Land of the Free” and “Home of the Brave” won’t ever leave us the hell alone, innocuous clothing like hooded sweatshirts have somehow become a source of contention.
In the latest example of Racial Profiling Gone Wild, a former journalist has accused police of doing exactly that after an incident at Wolfchase Galleria, a mall in Memphis, Tenn., in which a black teenager was arrested for violating a mall’s dress code. His crime? Wearing a hoodie.
Per Yahoo, the incident in question began when Kevin and Peggie McKenzie spotted an “older white male security guard following a group of young black men not far from a mall entrance.” Once Kevin realized the teens were being targeted, his “antenna went up.”
Kevin documented the encounter in a post on his wife’s Facebook page.
Soon after, the security guard then pulled out his radio to call in reinforcements, leading to the immediate arrival of a police officer who then escorted the teenagers out of the mall. When Kevin then attempted to intervene, he was informed that the teenagers had violated the mall’s dress code by wearing—you guessed it—hoodies. Which coincidentally, the Wolfchase Galleria’s “code of conduct” makes no mention of.
After leaving, the teens then returned to the mall entrance, with one contesting that “we have rights.” At that point, about four law-enforcement officials confronted the teenagers before they could reenter the shopping center and threatened to arrest them for “criminally trespassing on private property”. It was at that point that one of the teens was then handcuffed.
As Kevin recalls: “In a predominantly African-American area like Memphis and Shelby County, [using trespass laws to enforce the dress code policy] clearly disproportionately targets young black men.”
Thankfully, in order to preserve the teenager’s safety, Kevin decided to record the incident. But doing so made him an immediate target as well.
“[A] black sheriff’s deputy approached me and told me I also was breaking the mall’s rules. ‘You’re in violation of mall policy,’ he said. ‘So you can be asked to leave too, so you might want to put your phone up,’” Kevin wrote. But because he kept filming, he was handcuffed and escorted to a back office as well.
While handcuffed, Kevin argued against the discriminatory nature and enforcement of the dress code. “The officers could have issued me a misdemeanor citation and released me, but I was told that because I continued talking, I was going to jail,” he wrote.
According to Kevin’s recount, a toe infection that required medical care saved him from being whisked away to jail. He later learned the teenager that was in custody was released and issued a citation as well.
“Crime is a legitimate issue for the mall, the city and the county,” Kevin wrote. “But as author and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander points out in her book, ‘The New Jim Crow,’ vague trespass laws are one legal tool that has been used to control black populations, and particularly black men, since slavery ended … I witnessed a mall-to-prison pipeline in action and I will not support it.”
In the aftermath of this fiasco, Kevin revealed that both he and the teenager were given a form that would effectively banish them from the mall. However, Kevin refused to sign it, stating: “I didn’t need to because I will never spend another dollar at Wolfchase. Baby Boomers like me have failed to reverse the laws and policies that have led young black men in our community to be targeted by public laws and on this private property that everyone knows is the closest thing to a suburban public square.”
Kevin also notes that while he was being released, the officers in question “shook their heads at how someone as old as me would stand my ground and risk arrest,” he wrote. But to Kevin, he was defending far more than just his own honor. “The real question for Memphis and Shelby County is why more people of all ages are not.”