The local prosecutor’s office in Memphis, Tenn., has dismissed charges against two African-American men arrested last year for wearing hoodies inside the Wolfchase Galleria Mall, an incident that sparked cries of racial profiling.
Back in November, Montavious Smith, 22, and his three friends found themselves being escorted out of the mall by police for violating a so-called “no hoodie” policy. Smith and his friends returned to the building afterwards to challenge what they saw as a discriminatory policy, only to be met by local authorities.
“I like wearing my hood. I keep my hood on my head,” Smith told LocalMemphis.com. “I paid for it and I should be able to wear it.”
Police ultimately charged the young man with trespassing for allegedly coming back inside the mall after being booted out of the building for what mall security claimed was their refusal to comply with the mall’s dress code. Kevin McKenzie, a former reporter for The Commercial Appeal, was also slapped with a criminal trespass charge for supposedly intervening by capturing the young man’s arrest on his cellphone.
On Thursday, both men saw the charges against them dropped, The Commercial Appeal reported, citing online court records. Despite their being cleared, Smith paid $115.50 in court fees, while McKenzie paid $108.50, according the newspaper’s account.
Recalling the incident, McKenzie said his “antenna went up” the moment he noticed a white security guard following the group of young Black men.
“I asked the deputy what the young men had done,” McKenzie wrote in a Facebook post at the time. “Their hoodies had violated a mall policy, [the deputy] said. It was unclear to me whether the violation involved wearing the hoods up or not. Hoodie profiling was news to me.”
Moments after pulling out his phone, McKenzie said he was handcuffed.
He wrote, “Within seconds, a white Memphis police officer stepped in to tell me I would be arrested if I didn’t leave. Before I could respond, he twisted my arms behind me and placed me in handcuffs and marched me down the escalator to a back office at the mall.”
The incident sparked outrage across the country and caught the attention of both local and national activist groups. Local group Memphis Hoodie Watch was one of them, and called for the charges to be dismissed against Smith and McKenzie. According to LocalMemphis.com, the group also penned a news release to the mall asking that it change its code of conduct signs regarding hoodies.
In a related response, the same month that Smith and McKenzie were arrested at Wolfchase, four white women conducted what they called “a social experiment” by wearing hoodies to the same mall and actually pulling them over their heads. They described their experience to a local TV station by saying they were not evicted from the property but merely asked politely by mall security to remove the hoods from their heads. None of the young Black men who were booted by mall security in the earlier incident was observed wearing the hood up.
Wolfchase’s Code of Conduct previously stated that shoppers’ clothing “must be appropriate” but did not specifically mention hoodies. A spokesperson for the mall told the Commercial Appeal that it has since updated its dress policy “to clarify that hoodies are acceptable, as long as the guest’s face remains visible.”
Atlanta Black Star reached out to the district attorney’s office for a statement but haven’t heard back.
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