A mall’s dress-code policy is being challenged after a former Memphis, Tennessee, journalist wound up in handcuffs for filming the arrest of a Black teen cited for wearing a hoodie.
Kevin McKenzie, a former reporter for The Commercial Appeal, said he knew something was off when he spotted a white security guard tailing a group of young Black men at the Wolfchase Galleria on Saturday. McKenzie, 56, said he was at the mall intending to visit a cellphone store when the incident unfolded.
“As a 59-year-old black man and former journalist, my antenna went up,” McKenzie wrote in a Facebook post detailing the encounter. His wife Peggy, a former CA editor, also shared video McKenzie recorded as he tried stepping in on the teen’s behalf.
As the young men made their way through the mall, the journalist recalled the security guard being on them “like he was a cat after mice” and radioing for help when the teens started to outpace him. It wasn’t long before a Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy arrived and kicked the teens out of the mall.
Speaking to WREG Memphis, McKenzie says he asked why the boys were asked to leave and was told that their hoodies violated a mall policy. He wasn’t buying the claim, however.
“I am disturbed that even today and especially today, probably because race is back on the front burner in America, young black men have a very hard time,” he told the news station. “They’re perceived as threats, and they shouldn’t be.”
The former reporter said he’d never heard of such a policy and that he didn’t notice any of the teens with their hoods up when the security guard started following them. Wolfchase’s Code of Conduct states shoppers’ clothing “must be appropriate” but does not specifically mention hoodies, The Commercial Appeal pointed out.
“Hoodie profiling was news to me,” he added.
The teens walked back into the mall moments later to challenge the policy, only to be greeted by “at least two deputies and two Memphis police officers,” McKenzie said.
“We have rights,” he heard one of the teens say.
McKenzie, who tried to intervene, pulled out his phone as officers arrested one member of the group. He soon got a warning of his own.
“You know you’re in violation of mall policy right?” an off-duty deputy says as he approaches McKenzie. “So you might want to put your phone away.”
The deputy repeatedly tells McKenzie to leave before he’s arrested for criminal trespassing. After agreeing to leave, however, the deputy orders McKenzie to “put your hands behind your back” and cuffs him.
McKenzie told WREG he was taken to to the mall’s security office and then downtown, where he was cited for trespassing.
“The officers could have issued me a misdemeanor citation and released me, but I was told that because I continued talking, I was going to jail,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Initially officers told the young man whose arrest I captured on video that he, too, would be going to jail because I kept talking.”
Citing medical issues, the writer said he couldn’t go to the jail and was instead taken to the hospital where officers realized the cuffs he was wearing would not release. They ultimately had to be cut off with bolt cutters, McKenzie recalled.
As for the young man also arrested, he was slapped with a citation rather than jail time and released to appear in court at a later date. Moreover, he was asked to sign a form agreeing to be banned from the Wolfchase mall, The Commercial Appeal reported. McKenzie refused to sign it, however.
“I didn’t need to because I will never spend another dollar at Wolfchase,” he wrote. “I witnessed a mall-to-prison pipeline in action and I will not support it.”
Wolfchase Galleria addressed the incident in the following statement:
“Wolfchase Galleria is focused on providing a safe environment for all customers and employees. We require customers to not conceal their identity while on mall property as a matter of public safety. It is important that our security cameras and security personnel be able to see the faces of everyone on property. Mall security personnel respectfully ask all customers concealing their identity to conform to the policy. Police are only called if a customer refuses or becomes belligerent. In this instance, a MPD officer repeatedly requested the individual to remove his ‘hoodie.’ He did not comply with this directive and was removed from the mall. The incident on Saturday night was managed by the Memphis Police and we refer all questions about the circumstances to MPD.”
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