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A group of Black teenagers in Memphis were arrested by police for something that the majority of teens (and tech entrepreneurs) do everyday: wear hoodies.
And now, the mall and the Shelby Police Department have some explaining to do after a former reporter who defended the teens was arrested for standing up for the kids.
The reporter, Kevin McKenzie, has called into question the officer’s intent, saying it was clearly racially motivated.
McKenzie was a former journalist for The Commercial Appeal, and when he saw cops following a group of Black teens, he took notice and decided to follow them at the Wolfchase Galleria on Saturday, WREG reports.
“As a 59-year-old black man and former journalist, my antenna went up,” McKenzie wrote in a Facebook post about the situation.
The 56-year-old said he was on his way to a cellphone store, when he saw a mall cop follow the teens “like he was a cat after mice”. The teens then sped up. But the cop, he said called in backup from the Shelby County Sheriff’s department, who arrived on the scene and put the teens out of the mall.
Their crime: wearing a hoodie. The cop reportedly cited a “no hoodie” policy as their offense.
“I never saw a single hoodie up,” McKenzie said.
When McKenzie tried to speak up for the teens and question why they were being arrested, he was told that Wolfchase’s Code of Conduct states shoppers’ clothing “must be appropriate.” However, The Commercial Appeal noted that the vague policy does not state anything specific about not wearing hoodies.
“Hoodie profiling was news to me,” McKenzie added.
The teens questioned the cops too, which only angered them.
“We have rights,” he heard one of the teens say.
The heated exchange prompted McKenzie to pull out his cellphone and record the interaction.
“You know you’re in violation of mall policy right?” an off-duty deputy says as he walked toward McKenzie. “So you might want to put your phone away.”
McKenzie decided to leave after the deputy told him he was trespassing but as soon as he tried the deputy retaliated and ordered the man to “put your hands behind your back” and he handcuffed him.
McKenzie told WREG he was arrested and transported to the mall’s security office and then to the police station downtown. He was then given a citation for trespassing.
“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 in a Facebook post. “Initially officers told the young man whose arrest I captured on video that he, too, would be going to jail because I kept talking.”
McKenzie requested to go to the hospital because of medical issues. When transported there, the cops realized that they could not release his handcuffs and had to use bolt cutters to get them off.
The teens were forced to sign a form banning them from the mall, but McKenzie refused saying that he didn’t need to because he doesn’t intend to ever return.
“I didn’t need to because I will never spend another dollar at Wolfchase,” he wrote. “I witnessed a mall-to-prison pipeline in action and I will not support it.”
Wolfchase Galleria addressed the incident in the following statement:
“Wolfchase Galleria is focused on providing a safe environment for all customers and employees. We require customers to not conceal their identity while on mall property as a matter of public safety. It is important that our security cameras and security personnel be able to see the faces of everyone on property. Mall security personnel respectfully ask all customers concealing their identity to conform to the policy. Police are only called if a customer refuses or becomes belligerent. In this instance, a MPD officer repeatedly requested the individual to remove his ‘hoodie.’ He did not comply with this directive and was removed from the mall. The incident on Saturday night was managed by the Memphis Police and we refer all questions about the circumstances to MPD.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson with Memphis Police responded with the following statement:
“The off-duty MPD officer was working a secondary job as security for Wolfchase Galleria. MPD officers are allowed to work a secondary job as long as they follow the policy that is in place for additional and secondary employment.
Working an additional or secondary job is nothing new and has been available for officers for many years. When officers are working their additional or secondary job, they are not being compensated by the City of Memphis. The company in which they work for is responsible for paying the officer due to the officer is hired by them, and works for them just as any other employee.
Again, I cannot speak on the policies relative to Wolfchase Mall. Also, I’m not sure what other information you are needing, or what is meant by “managed by MPD”.
“I am disturbed that even today and especially today, probably because race is back on the front burner in America, young Black men have a very hard time,” McKenzie told the news station. “They’re perceived as threats, and they shouldn’t be.”