Seeing beyond the hoodie

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Terry Dean

With all the talk about the hoodie worn by Trayvon Martin on the night he was shot by reckless and overzealous vigilante George Zimmerman, there's not been much talk about the most famous "hoodie" wearer ever.

A real criminal with real criminal intent. An individual, unlike Trayvon, who did harm and actually killed people. A criminal who was first identified in 1987 by an eyewitness, but whose description would not be sketched until some seven years later at the request of the FBI.

The sketch artist, a woman named Jeanne Boylan, is renowned for her artwork of suspects that law enforcement uses to gage public interest and track down the offenders.

Boylan's sketch of this hooded suspect - a real, actual killer - was the nation's, perhaps the world's, most famous image until Trayvon's.

Her 1994 sketch of Theodore John Kaczynski - a.k.a Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. The Unabomber - is known the world over. Most anyone who remembers his crimes over a 20-year period - his sending of homemade bombs to 23 people across the United States via mailed packages beginning in 1978 - remembers that sketch.

That penciled black-and-white image of a man wearing sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt - the dreaded hoodie.

Kaczynski, a Chicago native now in his late 60s and sitting in a federal prison for life without parole, wore his hoodie and lived. Trayvon, who killed no one and committed no crime at the time of his shooting, wore his hoodie and is dead.

How is it that some ignorant and bigoted folk will attach evil intent to the hoodie and attach that garment and all its "evils" to only black people? Or to hip-hop artists or rappers. Or black athletes. Or to, as Mr. Zimmerman described Trayvon, young people supposedly up to no good.

Geraldo Rivera eventually apologized to Trayvon's parents for his ignorant statement - among the most ignorant he's ever made and that I've ever heard - telling parents not to let their kids where hoodies or they'll get killed. How sick. How racist. How stupid on any level regardless of ethnicity.

It's like telling a woman not to wear a low-cut blouse or she'll get raped, and then blaming her for the fact that she was raped because she wore the low-cut blouse in the first place.

Speaking of which, what was Natalee Holloway wearing when she disappeared? What was JonBenét Ramsey wearing the night she was killed? The only reason to ask is for a description of the clothes that might help with the forensic investigation to solve the case.

But Trayvon's hoodie is seen by Mr. Zimmerman, as well as those who think like him, as something different. It's not only the uniform of a criminal but also a symbol. A symbol of the dangerous, rebellious black male who's "up to no good."

No such symbolism was ever placed in The Unabomber's hoodie. It was just what an eyewitness said he was wearing.

Yes, crooks wear disguises all the time. But we don't take those disguises and use them to stereotype a whole race of people, like many are doing with Trayvon and his hoodie. Others have taken to wearing the hoodie in support of Trayvon, his family, for justice, for unity. But also to take that "evil" symbolism and throw it back in the face of those who perpetrate it.

And it's not just the hoodie.

Law-biding Muslim Americans are attacked and stereotyped because of how they look, because bigots are unable or unwilling to see them as something other than a terrorist. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people after setting off a truck bomb in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Thoughtful, sensible people didn't judge all white people with crew-cuts who happened to serve in the Army as nut-cases just because of McVeigh.

Truth be told, there are those folks in the black community, my community, who are destroying the community through unjustified violence and hatred directed at other blacks - and many of those victims are law-biding folk not involved in any criminal or negative activity whatsoever. I call those perpetrators The Black KKK, because their thoughts, actions and behaviors are no different than their white, racist counterparts.

And truth be told: some of those Black KKK members look and dress like me, and Trayvon. But I and other folk can spot the difference.

Those like Mr. Zimmerman shoot first and never ask questions later.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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