All are decades old, and I have never been shot while wearing any of them. But then I am a middle-aged white man and not a black teenager.
Four weeks ago, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teenager who looked years younger, was shot to death in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, 28, whom the news media have taken to calling a “white Hispanic.” (The U.S. Census allow you to pick both your race and ethnicity.)
Trayvon was unarmed, and Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch “volunteer,” which means he appointed himself to cruise around in his truck with a gun looking for people he thought to be suspicious.
The Orlando Sentinel has reported that over the last 15 months, Zimmerman has called the Sanford police 46 times. Apparently he had his own definition of what is suspicious, and seeing a black teenager in his neighborhood on the night of Feb. 26 qualified as suspicious to Zimmerman.
From the 911 tape of that night:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.
911 Operator: Did you see what he was wearing?
Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a gray hoodie. ... These a*******, they always get away. He’s running.”
Things would have turned out much differently if Zimmerman had just let Trayvon run away or allowed the police to track him down.
Instead, Zimmerman told the 911 operator he was going to follow Trayvon on foot, and the operator said, “We don’t need you to do that.”
But Zimmerman exited his truck and pursued Trayvon.
A good lawyer might tell a jury that Zimmerman was not following Trayvon but stalking him. A good lawyer might tell a jury that Trayvon’s “suspicious” behavior consisted of no more than walking along the sidewalk carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea in his pocket.
But because Zimmerman was never arrested, lawyers, good or bad, may never get a chance to say anything.
We do know that when police got to the scene, Trayvon was lying dead facedown on the ground. According to phone logs obtained by ABC News, Trayvon called his girlfriend shortly before his death.
According to the Martin family lawyer, the call went like this:
Trayvon’s girlfriend: “He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man. I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run.”
Eventually, according to his girlfriend, Trayvon did run, but Zimmerman caught up to him.
Trayvon’s girlfriend: “Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for?’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here?’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the headset just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.”
A good lawyer might tell a jury that Trayvon was running away from Zimmerman, not trying to attack him.
And a good lawyer might tell a jury that Trayvon’s only crime was walking while black.
But a month has passed, and Zimmerman, who, we should all keep in mind, may be innocent of any crime, still remains not arrested, not charged, not indicted.
So who or what is responsible for Trayvon’s death?
National embarrassment Geraldo Rivera knows. It was the hoodie that done it.
“I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,” Geraldo said on “Fox and Friends.”
Later, on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Rivera said: “I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies.”
This is a familiar argument. Police used to refuse to arrest men for rape if the victim was dressed in a “provocative” manner because, obviously, she was just asking for it.
For the past month, local police have refused to arrest Zimmerman because they say under Florida law Zimmerman “reasonably believed” he was in fear of “death or great bodily harm” from the unarmed Trayvon and had every legal right to shoot him dead instead of retreating.
And there is another side to the story. Rene Stutzman reported in the Orlando Sentinel on Monday: “With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times, leaving him bloody and battered, authorities have revealed to the Orlando Sentinel.
“That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say.”
But is there still reasonable cause to arrest Zimmerman? Why did he pursue Trayvon Martin even after police told him not to? Why did Zimmerman leave the safety of his truck instead of waiting for police to arrive?
And if Trayvon did hit Zimmerman, could Trayvon have been acting to defend his own life from an armed pursuer?
Is the mere act of wearing a hoodie suspicious? And if you confront a boy wearing a hoodie, do you have a right to shoot and kill him just because you then grow afraid of him?
In an emotional moment in the Rose Garden on Friday, President Obama said: “I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we ... figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”
We have a way of doing that in America. It is called a trial. There should be one in this case.
Unlike Geraldo Rivera, I don’t think “the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.”
Hoodies don’t kill people. Killers do.
Roger Simon is editor of Politico.