Seeing beyond the hoodie

Opinion: Columns

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

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 of 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."

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.

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.

Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

28 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2012 12:35 PM

G from Oak Park, media companies are competing against each other and they will tell a stronger story to get viewers to their side. Problem is people can't tell what is real facts and manipulated facts for attention.

G from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2012 9:42 AM

Q doesn't "like to take media accounts who are competing against other media companies a source for real information." Ok, what media provider does NOT compete with others?

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2012 8:43 AM

To Rez: There is no such thing as free health care.Do you want to be forced to go to therapy? How about forced surgery?


Posted: May 1st, 2012 3:01 AM

"what do we do?" First you give everyone free health care, then you force everyone to go to therapy every day until they people stop shooting and beating people.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: April 29th, 2012 10:51 AM

Very good article. The last line should read "Those like Mr. Zimmerman and the Black KKK shoot first and never ask questions" Juan Williams wrote for the Wall Street Journal, that African Americans make up 13% of the US population. AA males between 16 and 40 make up 40% of the murder victims, and 95% of the murderers are`AA. What do we do?

Fred from Bedrock  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 12:32 PM

Alton Hayes is just as dangerous with a steering wheel in his hands.

Dan Hefner from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2012 6:18 AM

I find that those who accuse others of bigotry and racism, are often the most biggoted and the most racist. MLK implored us to be colorblind and that is how I have lived my life. Every person on this planet is a member of the same race, the Human Race!

OP Dude  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 9:21 PM

To suggest that a piece of clothing has no real meaning is ridiculous, and to suggest that people who read into a piece of clothing are racist, is judgmental. It's all about the specifics of the situation...

OP Dude  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 9:17 PM

Does this make me a racist? No, it doesn't, it makes me cautious, and may mean that I avoided becoming a victim. As others say, clothing takes on meaning, and sometimes the clothing with body language, attitude... will in form us whether a person may be a potential threat or not. The police has mentioned that gangs have recently been wearing white t-shirts to make it harder for police to identify their affiliation, so obviously even gangs are aware of the symbolic nature of clothing. Cont.

OP Dude  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 9:13 PM

Terry Dean, It seems like you're making some pretty strong generalizations here about how people profile. I agree with John in that I'm extra cautious of people walking near or towards me if it's dark out, and my alert meter goes even higher if they are wearing something that obscures their appearance. If someone is wearing a hoodie, has the hood up, is getting closer and it's night time with no one around, I'm going to take a different route regardless of the persons color. Cont'

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 5:36 PM

Change the "Way for the trial" to Wait for the trial. I don't like to take media accounts who are competing against other media companies a source for real information.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 5:33 PM

Terry Dean, you can spot and distinguish who is bad and good wearing clothing like yourself. What is your secret? What secret are you using to stereo type the good from the bad? The bomber wore a hoody, Travon wore a hoody, rappers who rap crap wear hoodies. Are you saying people who wear hoodies are hiding or up to no good or is there no stereo typing to wearing a hoody? For you to know if Zimmerman is guilty or not or know that Travon did nothing is ignorance on your part. Way for the trial.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 4:53 PM

Sorry Mr. Dean I find your linkage of hoodies and racism very weak. I live on Oak Park Ave and it is pretty dark at night. If I see several or even one person walking down the street in a dark hoody, I become more alert long before I can determine whether the person is black, white, or tan, male or female. That's a perception not a racist perception. When I grow growing up anyone wearing a black leather jacket was considered dangerous, even if they were just making a fashion statement. Racist? I grew up in a white neighborhood. Before linking hoodys and racism, you should have asked Chief Tanksley how his street police, black and white, react to hoodies. I suspect their alert level increases irrespective of race.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 4:16 PM

HAVE shot her.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 4:16 PM

Clarification: Using smartphones on the El isn' @Why Violet: What if a Black girl was visiting her dad in that gated community? Would GZ shot her? Nope! The greatest probability of criminality fit Tray's profile. Sorry to say, but it just did. Not so different than a break-in or armed robbery in OP.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 4:13 PM

@1957: I realize that it may be outdated right now. Isn't the summer outfit of the gang members what they call "tall tees" (long white t-shirts) w/ the sagging clown pants? Here's the point: if you have a smart phone, you should be able to talk on it wherever. However, since thugs will be attracted to such an item, it would behoove you to avoid using it. It doesn't excuse a thief from his or her responsibility but it is just being pragmatic about the reality of the situation.

I Wonder  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 3:32 PM

Why do really rich rap stars, 50 Cent etc.. want to be a part of the gang culture?  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 3:20 PM

"Eradicate gangs and that will end any connection between clothing and crime." And this is ridiculously untrue. So if there are no gangs, you would ignore a man dressed in all black at night? Yeah..sure. You can't even regularly identify Chicago gangs by colors anymore. Try to identify a Black Disciple or better yet a Four Corner Hustler by the colors he wears. You'll be in for a headache. Stop reading all that 1990s gang prevention stuff. Half of it was outdated and out of context then.

Why Violet Why...  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 3:15 PM

The problem with Geraldo's comment is that the hoodie only "increased susipicion due to its association with thuggery" when worn by a black male. Hoodies were probably the number one worn outer garment worn on my college campus: athletes, greeks, thugs, students...of all backgrounds wore hoodies all day everyday except summer. Dean is saying it will not be associated with thuggery if a white female wears it.

Tie and Shirt  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 3:08 PM

BINGO for you Hoodie!

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 2:36 PM

as belonging to a rival gang? No one ever criticizes people who won't wear a particular color because it had gang ties. And yet they cling to wearing hoodies. I agree 100% with Geraldo. He wasn't saying GZ was innocent and the hoodie was the culprit. He also didn't advocate for making hoodies illegal. He was simply saying that the hoodie may have increased the suspicion due to its association with thuggery. Eradicate gangs and that will end any connection between clothing and crime.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 2:32 PM

Elderly women get raped. Babies get raped. It's not due to what they are wearing. However, hoodies can indicate a thug wanting to hide his appearance. And it's been done many times before. Why don't you rail against employers who refuse to hire a guy who shows up at an interviewer showing off his ratty undies and sagging pants? Because you realize that clothes are symbolic; they communicate things to the outer world. What about those in the 'hood eschewing certain colors so they are not seen

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 2:29 PM

Cont. If you enter a bank, it is not uncommon to see a sign on the door requesting you to remove your hoodie and sunglasses, due to the use of these items to obscure a robber's appearance. In fact, on the same day that Bobby Rush made a spectacle of himself by wearing a hoodie on the floor of the House, two gunmen on the South Side donned hoodies and shot up a convenience store at rush hour that evening, killing two and wounding six. The rape analogy is ridiculous. Rape is not due to lust (cont.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 2:26 PM

Mr. Dean, I beg to differ with some of your statements. Hoodies and sagging jeans are the uniform of the thug, however not all hoodie/saggers are thugs. The point is that in the dark on a rainy night (probably deserted streets, in other words) with a 6'3" young Black male (not the little boy pushed as the narrative in the media for weeks) might have seemed intimidating to a man who seems to have been fear-based, not to mention wanting to be a cop.


Posted: April 25th, 2012 2:18 PM

And an even better question is whether any of that would have mattered if Zimmerman had just gone home after he called the police.

Tie and shirt  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 2:06 PM

Better question: If the hoodie was worn by a guy named Tom Wasilewski, he'd still have been followed by Zimmerman then?


Posted: April 25th, 2012 1:57 PM

If Trayvon had been wearing a shirt & tie, he'd still have been followed by Zimmerman then?

Just sayin'  

Posted: April 25th, 2012 1:51 PM

The very idea that a hoodie is somehow used to stereotype any element of society is plainly ridiculous. That Zimmerman represents a hoodie somehow stirred a deep sense of fear and distrust is absurd. Hoodies are commonplace, and not characteristic of any one race, age, or economic status. Every type of person, from babies to corporate execs, wears hoodies - walking billboards for the ad world. The whole hoodie thing is a red herring.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Classified Ad

Latest Comments