Though lauded for his heroism when working as an A&E doctor, U.K.-based Dr. Emeka Okorocha, a Black man, says that when he’s on the street in plain clothes, he’s often racially profiled.
“Everyone seems to love me in my scrubs and everyone is clapping for the [National Health Service], but if I wear a hoodie, as a 6’ 6” black man in an affluent neighbourhood — they’ll be scared,” Okorocha explained to the Daily Mail.
In light of the protests that have broken out around the world in response to the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the numerous Black people who have lost their lives to police brutality, Okorocha decided to make a TikTok highlighting the treatment he receives as a Black doctor vs. as a Black civilian.
“I was in a group chat of doctors, and most of us are Black. We were talking about it and all discussed how when [they see you] in scrubs they’ll celebrate [you], but when they see you in hoodie they fear you,” Okorocha said.
In his TikTok, which has more than 222,000 likes, Okorocha calls out the racists who “celebrate” him at work and “hate” him when he’s out on the streets in everyday attire.
“If you celebrate me in my scrubs, don’t hate me in my hoodie,” Okorocha says in the video.
People really resonated with Okorocha’s message and applauded him for speaking out.
“This speaks volumes. Hope it reaches millions,” one person said.
“Yes. Black lives matter. You should be able to wear a freaking hoodie without people feeling a certain way,” another user added.
Okorocha told the Daily Mail that he has been racially profiled by the cops several times, particularly in more affluent neighborhoods.
“’I’ve had incidents,” he said. “I’ve been driving [my] car in [a] nice neighbourhood where my parents live, and [I’ve] been stopped for ‘driving too slow.’ When [the police officer] saw my ID and saw it said ‘doctor’ his tone changed straight away.”
“I’ve been stopped five or six times by police,” he continued. “And never [has] anything been out of order. I’m just stopped just for suspicion, I’ve been told I looked like ‘someone who was reported in the area.’ If I’m in my car, police don’t know how tall or big I am, but they’re stopping me for ‘fitting a description.’”
The prejudicial biases Okorocha is explaining is certainly not unheard of. This is racial profiling, defined by the ACLU as “the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”
A prime example of racial profiling is the killing of Trayvon Martin. In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed while wearing what his assailant, George Zimmerman, described to 911 operators as “a dark hoodie.”
Following the killing of Martin, the simple hooded sweatshirt became a symbol of the fight against systemic racism, with civilians and celebrities alike taking to the streets in the streetwear cult-classic to express their anger and frustration.
“I’ve had experiences where I’ve been walking down the street in New York, and as an African American man in a hoodie, I can tell you it’s seen as incredibly suspicious,” Daniel Maree, who organized the Million Hoodie March in 2012, told Washington Post at the time. “Some people hold their purses a little tighter. When I heard Trayvon was wearing a hoodie, I thought, ‘I’ve felt this before.’”
Even before the death of Trayvon Martin, the hoodie was largely associated with criminals and thugs. Though athletes and fashionable women were seen sporting the wardrobe staple at the beginning of the 20th century, by the 1990s, it became associated with hip-hop and streetwear culture.
A hoodie has “inherent qualities of mystery and anxiety,” sociology professor Darnell Hunt explained to Washington Post. And though the garment has always had these inherent qualities, it only became associated with crime and suspicious activity “when young Black men chose to wear it.”
Hoodie or not, BIPOC suspects are far more likely to be mistreated by members of the police force. According to a 2016 paper from Harvard University, Black and Hispanic suspects are more than 50 percent more likely to experience some type of force during police interactions compared to white suspects.
With this data in mind, study author and economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., concluded that “on non-lethal uses of force, there are racial differences – sometimes quite large – in police use of force, even after accounting for a large set of controls designed to account for important contextual and behavioral factors at the time of the police-civilian interaction.”
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