What kind of statement are Auburn hoodie wearers making?

Death of Florida teen thrusts wearing of ubiquitous hooded sweatshirts into the center of a national debate
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - One of 2012’s ubiquitous fashion statements in Auburn and around the nation, the humble hoodie has now become a lightning rod in a political and cultural firestorm. For some Auburn teens wearing their hoodies either up or down at noon hour outside Placer High School on a cool day in March with a gray sky threatening rain, the hooded sweatshirt was mostly about comfort and protection from the elements – not a statement about the shooting death of a Florida teen that has created a widespread uproar. On a day after U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., flipped his hoodie over his head while speaking about the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and was reprimanded in the House chamber over a ‘no hats” rule, Cole Blackwell was wearing his hood up. “I just cut my hair so my head’s cold,” Blackwell said. “And I like wearing a hoodie.” And so did hundreds of other Placer High students as they took their lunch break in a variety of styles and colors of hoodies. Zack Madrigal was wearing a Hillman green-and-gold hoodie. While some have associated hoodies with gangs and criminal activities, Madrigal said that he was proud to be wearing a sweatshirt issued because he made the school’s freshman baseball team. Hoods up and hats aren’t allowed at the high school but during lunch hour, when students leave the campus, the hats go on and hoods go up. “Some teachers I’ve heard think that hoodies can represent gang affiliation but it also has to do with possibly listening to music (with ear buds covered by a hood),” Madrigal said. Brett Meeker said that he’s never encountered any questions when wearing his hoodie up or down in public or at school. When told about some of the hoodie demonstrations taking place in California and throughout the county, Meeker said he commiserates. Some California state legislators were wearing hoodies Thursday, as did members of the Miami Heat basketball team. Congressman Rush wore his hoodie Wednesday and spoke out against racial profiling. He removed his suit jacket and pulled the hood on the sweatshirt he was wearing underneath over his head, saying that “just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum,” The Associated Press reported. George Zimmerman, 28, touched the firestorm of debate off on a rainy night Feb. 26 when he shot and killed Martin, who was wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman stated to authorities that Martin was acting suspicious and then attacked him as he headed back to his sport utility vehicle. Martin was unarmed, AP reports state. Zimmerman was not charged, touching off widespread public outrage and protests across the county. Martin’s supporters believe race played a role in the shooting. Martin was black. Zimmerman’s father his white and his mother is Hispanic. Meeker said that, under the circumstances, there was all the more reason to wear his hoodie Thursday. “It makes a statement – for people to be more understanding,” Meeker said. “It’s pretty messed up, what happened. If it was the other way around, the black kid would be in jail.” Maddy Waters said Martin’s story has saddened her. “And I can’t believe he (Zimmerman) is out there running around,” Waters said. For some businesses, however, hoodies have become taboo. Veteran security professional Mike Boswell, of Austin Security Patrol in Rancho Cordova, said that he’s old enough to remember when he wore a hoodie as a child growing up in the 1960s and no one thought anything of it. Today, however, banks ban wearing hoodies over heads and hats because they obscure faces of suspects in armed robberies. “You can have all the cameras in the world but if you can’t see a face, you can’t catch anybody,” Boswell said. “You can flip it up and have enough shadow so people can’t see your features.” Boswell said perhaps one of the most grievous examples of hooded crime took place during the Christmas holidays at a Costco store in the Arden area of Sacramento. The thieves drove a truck through a door and in six minutes, were out with a cache of jewelry. Video footage showed all were wearing hoodies, he said. Martin’s supporters now include a host of outspoken celebrities and civil rights leaders who have appeared on television for the past two weeks to say they don’t believe Zimmerman’s contention that the shooting was self-defense. But in Auburn, some hoodies at Placer High School on Thursday remained more a sign of the cold than a sign of the times – and the death of Trayvon Martin. The Associated Press contributed to this report.