Thousands and thousands of Americans are now wearing hoodies, the hooded sweatshirt that Trayvon Martin was wearing when he was shot in a gated community in Florida by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. From the Million Hoodie March in New York City this past week, this form of protest has spread to literally dozens of other cities. Many pastors and worshippers last weekend around the country, particularly in the black church, sported hoodies in church as a show of solidarity.
Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher that he had spotted a young man in “dark hoodie, a gray hoodie” and he was “a suspicious guy.”
On Friday, Geraldo Rivera said on “Fox and Friends” that “the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” Rivera told parents not to let their kids wear hoodies as it sends a sinister message. “You cannot rehabilitate the hoodie,” Rivera said. “Stop wearing it.”
No, Mr. Rivera. What we need to do is start wearing the hoodie. The hoodie has become holy, a sign of the sacredness of this young man’s life, and the lives of all young African American males who are so at risk in American society today. For what dangerous act was Treyvon targeted by Zimmerman? He was, as Eugene Robinson so movingly wrote, “walking while black,” wearing a sweatshirt with a hood.
But the donning of the hoodie has also become a sign of protest, of resistance against the rampant racism against young African American males that may have played a role in this shooting.
The public holiness displayed by wearing a hoodie is both the affirmation of this young man’s life, that he was completely innocent, and it is a sign of resistance to the way in which young African American males are literally not safe in their own skin, in their own clothes, minding their own business.
The Trayvon Martin shooting, as the violent death of another young African American male, did not immediately make it to national media attention. The national attention, in fact, is another example of the power of Facebook and Twitter, and the influence of these on moving the national conversation. And then, it was often African American members of the news media who received the Tweets, saw the story, and recognized their own children, or their friends’ children, in Trayvon Martin. Don Lemon, a CNN weekend anchor who has stayed on the story, has said that in regard to the Martin death, “there is a certain degree of understanding that comes from minorities, and particularly African-Americans, just because we’ve lived it.” Lemon recalled that in a planning meeting for his program, one of his producers, a black mother of two teenage boys, was “almost in tears” as she said, “We’ve got to do something on this story.”
The accelerating moral outrage about the Trayvon Martin killing has also brought much needed attention to the dangerous “Stand Your Ground” gun laws. This law has been called the ‘License-to-murder’ by critics. Their voices have been consistently drowned out by the power of the National Rifle Association in its lobbying to get these laws passed.
But now, in the loss of this innocent child’s life, and the probable role of these permissive gun laws in both the act and the investigation, critics are being heard. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, for example, has connected the dots for many Americans. Trayvon Martin’s murder, according to their president, Dan Gross, is the “NRA’s Vision for America.”
In all the protest, it has been and continues to be important to keep focus on the life of Trayvon Martin himself. Trayvon was a child, a child of his heartbroken parents, and, as President Obama said so movingly, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Trayvon Martin was a child of God and his death should grieve every American of conscience. Who has a heart so hardened that they cannot find it within themselves to feel outrage and cry out in protest at the injustice of killing a young, African American teenager, clutching his candy and his iced tea as he falls dead of handgun violence?
This week, at Chicago Theological Seminary, students are organizing a worship service to remember Trayvon Martin. Those who attend are asked to bring a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Should iced tea and Skittles candy indeed become the elements of our Eucharist these days?
Americans of conscience have been coming together to mourn in worship and march wearing the hoodie. These acts are important, but it is also true that we must organize and prevent more young African American men from becoming cannon fodder in a society obsessed with guns, and blinded by racial stereotypes to the point where a hooded sweatshirt becomes a target on a young man’s back.
Hoodies are holy these days, but so is the public holiness of repealing these horrendous gun laws that have been passed not only in Florida but also in 23 other states. Hoodies are holy, but even more are the bodies, minds and spirits of young African American men who are at risk every day on the streets of this nation, no matter how they are dressed.
Stop the gun madness. Stop the racism. Stop it now.
An On Faith panelist and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.