ROC Nation’s Team Roc addresses racial injustices and instrumental in getting Memphis ‘hoodie arrests’ charges dropped
Montavious Smith says the entertainment and music publishing company was instrumental in helping him fight against a policy that saw him in police custody over wearing a hoodie.
A Memphis man who had charges against him dropped in what came to be known as the “hoodie arrests” is thanking entertainment and music publishing company ROC Nation for their support in obtaining legal help.
“The last couple months haven’t been easy for me and my family,” said Montavious Smith, 22, who was arrested after a confrontation with police over the dress code at Wolfchase Galleria Mall. “But now, I’m looking forward to turning this negative situation into an educational opportunity for local and national communities alike.”
In November, Smith, 22, was at the mall with friends when they were reportedly stopped and told to remove their hooded sweatshirts and jackets based on a vague policy that regulates “appropriate attire.” When they refused, the group was told to leave the premises.
Kevin McKenzie, 59, a retired journalist who worked for the Memphis Commercial Appeal saw Smith being arrested and began to record the incident, but was arrested after being told it was illegal to do so. Both men were charged with criminal trespassing.
However, prosecutors dropped all charges against them last Thursday after the pair received legal support from ROC Nation’s new social justice division, Team ROC. It’s purpose is to focus on addressing racial injustices and in doing so, helped Smith and McKenzie fight their cases by getting high-profile attorneys to provide pro bono legal support. ROC representatives also reportedly met with mall officials about enacting changes to the dress code policy.
Alex Spiro, a New York based lawyer retained by ROC Nation’s philanthropy division to defend Smith said no crime was committed and the incident did not require legal action against the two men.
“It was the right result and it struck [them] early on that this isn’t the type of case they wanted to go to war over,” Spiro told TheGrio. “If a person thinks ‘What can I do, if I don’t agree with the government and there’s no real progress?’ It requires powerful and uniquely positioned people to bring the light and justice into it. Roc Nation uses that influence for good.”
ROC Nation began legal outreach through their philanthropy division to fight against racial injustice through the support of prominent lawyers, professional athletes, and music artists like Memphis rapper Yo Gotti who learned about Smith’s case from Team ROC.
“[Gotti] and Montavious come from the same community,” Dania Diaz, managing director of philanthropy at ROC Nation told TheGrio. “We are in a position to connect those matters to the heart to the people who are passionate about those issues and to raise awareness about those issues.”
“It amplifies the needs for equity and equality,” Diaz added. “It’s natural to respond to issues that are dear to the communities we support through our athletes and entertainers.”
Officials at the mall said in a statement that they did not press charges and have updated its code of conduct to “clarify that hoodies are acceptable as long as the guest’s face remains visible.”
Smith expressed his gratitude to everyone who was in his corner since news of the case broke.
“I’m grateful that all charges against me were dismissed and I’d like to thank my attorney Alex Spiro, Yo Gotti, Roc Nation and everyone that has publicly and privately supported me for their role in this positive outcome,” he said. “Additionally, I want to express my gratitude to the team at Simon Malls for carefully listening to my concerns and updating their policies.
For more information on ROC Nation’s legal outreach division, email them at Teamroc@rocnation.com.
Melonee Gaines is the owner and lead maven of MPact Media Group, a digital media and public relations consulting firm and has worked as a freelance journalist with MLK50.com, The Crisis Magazine, and High Ground News. She has also worked in higher and secondary education for 12 years. Follow her food and travel exploits on IG @meloneedg.