Shopping mall bans upturned hoodies for ‘safety and well-being of everyone’

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Trayvon rally

Wearing a hoodie, Rev. Dr. Norwood Thompson, chapter president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaks to the crowd at a rally held in reaction to the recent George Zimmerman acquittal in New Orleans, Saturday, July 20, 2013. The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network organized "Justice for Trayvon" rallies nationwide to press for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, who was found not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

In a controversial move, a shopping precinct in central Indiana has posted a sign making it clear that upturned “hoodies” are not welcome.

Signs prominently posted at the entrances of the Mounds Mall in Anderson, Indiana, advise visitors “for the safety and well-being of everyone, please lower your hoodie.”

The new signage posted next to the door handles at each entrance also features the image of a red, crossed-out hooded figure.

In an interview with the Herald Bulletin, general manager, Braun Roosa said the signs were “requested by local law enforcement. It is for security and ID purposes only. We don’t ask them to remove the hoodie, just lower it.”

Mall officials say the rules regarding hoodies date back to 2004 but new signs reminding customers of the rule were posted in December.

Still, there are many who are uneasy with the stereotype that teens or young people wearing hooded sweatshirts are potential troublemakers.

“Who gets to decide what kind of clothing is suspicious and why is it the hoodie, not hats or sunglasses that cover the eyes,” said Rev. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter.

“What is the basis for declaring that an item of clothing sold in malls can’t even be worn in the same malls,” adds Barber. “These are the questions that must be probed and not merely glossed over.”

Though in response Braun said his interview with the Herald Bulletin that hoodies are specifically mentioned in its Mounds Mall Code of Conduct and other businesses, like the financial industry, make similar requests of clients including limiting the ability to wearing sunglasses inside.

In another interview with a local TV station, Braun said if someone doesn’t abide by the policy, they are left with no choice but to ask the individual to leave the property.

Hoodies are specifically mentioned in the mall’s code of conduct: “Appropriate, non-offensive attire; shirts and shoes must be worn; no hoodies or other apparel that will disguise identity,” according to the Herald Bulletin.

In fact, hooded sweatshirts, especially since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin while wearing a hoodie, have increasingly become a symbol of racial tension in America. Though the attire is popular among young people of all races, it has become synonymous with black youth culture and racial profiling. Following the acquittal of Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, the garment took on wider significance, with “million-hoodie marches” staged across the country.

“Let’s be honest here – this policy is not about safety and security; it’s about inciting more unnecessary fear and negative stereotypes about black male youth,” said Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, a professor of sociology at the University of North Florida.

“If a similar policy were developed to prohibit turbans or hijabs in airports for instance, it would be immediately labeled insensitive, irrational, and discriminatory,” she adds.

“While officials may have been well meaning in their intent, their actions were nevertheless counterproductive and only work to intensify an already tense racial climate in our society.”

The majority of residents — 79 percent — in Anderson, Indiana are white.

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, a widely respected expert on race and politics, said rather than waging a war against hoodies, the focus should be on combating laws which support senseless gun crime.

“I find it the upmost in irony that a state which not only has the stand your ground law in place, but also allows individuals to carry around concealed weapons, now has a mall that’s warning consumers to remove their hoodies for the “safety and well-being of everyone.”  It’s ridiculous and completely wrong-headed,” said Dr. Jones-DeWeever.

“If the owners of that mall were truly concerned about safety, they’d be fighting violence-inducing laws, rather than waging war against a piece of clothing.”

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti