Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Hoodies off - Levy cries foul as Clarendon cops target young men sporting face-hiding sweatshirts

Published:Monday | March 13, 2017 | 12:00 AMJason Cross and Shanique Samuels
Head of the Clarendon police, Senior Superintendent Vendolyn Cameron-Powell.
Horace Levy
A teenage boy wearing a hoodie.

A move by police in Clarendon to target young men wearing hoodies (sweaters with a covering for the head and ears) for increased searches and questioning has been described by at least one human rights advocate as "discriminatory" and "profiling".

Head of the Clarendon Police Division Superintendent Vendolyn Cameron Powell had said that the drive to stop and search young men wearing hoodies was part of efforts to combat crime in the parish. She also questioned why anyone should need to wear hoodies in Jamaica's tropical climate.

But yesterday afternoon, human rights advocate Horace Levy, the executive director of Jamaicans for Justice, lashed out at the move to target men wearing hoodies.

"There is no right (on the part of the police to implement such a strategy) to me. Just because there are some crimes being committed by guys with hoodies, you are to start searching every hooded guy? It's a style and a matter of self-identification!" Levy told The Gleaner.

"I disagree with the police stopping and searching everybody wearing a hoodie. The police are to have a good reason for searching somebody to begin with. They don't have the right to just stop and search everybody. To add to that, if they are stopping and searching everybody wearing a hoodie, that's profiling, and that's being quite discriminatory," Levy said.

Claims of profiling were central to the 2012 case around the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, United States, who was shot and killed by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman had followed Martin and got into an altercation with the black teenager after describing him to a 911 operator as appearing suspicious and wearing a "dark hoodie".

It later turned out that Martin had been walking home after purchasing Skittles at a nearby convenience store, but Zimmerman was, in 2013, found not guilty of second-degree murder after a less-than-one-month trial.

Yesterday, in explaining the rationale behind law enforcement's stance with regard to the wearing of hoodies, Powell said that the Clarendon police have received "quite a number of" reports where men dressed in hoodies commit crimes in the parish.

"If you look at the reports from most of our crime scenes - murders, shootings, break-ins, robberies - a common feature is men dressed in hoodies," Powell told The Gleaner yesterday.

"As a result, we are looking out seriously for persons so attired, walking around with offensive weapons, especially when they appear in my town centre and roadways connected to the town centre."

Powell also suggested that persons wearing hoodies actually attract attention to themselves.

"I mean, they are dressed in hoodies in daylight, sun barking, and (a hoodie) is cold-weather wear. So, we have interest in those persons. Information collected from crime scenes advises us that persons with handkerchiefs tied around their faces, around their heads, feature in quite a number of major crimes."

Powell pointed out that this strategy was not new to the island as other police divisions have already adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards the wearing of hoodies.

She encouraged residents who see men in their communities wearing hoodies and other coverings of the face to call the police and make a report.