A former journalist is accusing police of racial profiling after an incident caught on video shows a black teen being arrested for violating a mall’s “no hoodie” dress code policy.
The video was posted to Facebook on Sunday by Peggy D. McKenzie, the wife of the accuser, Kevin McKenzie, who is also black. In a caption, Peggy shares her husband’s account of the confrontation and reveals that Kevin was later arrested too, allegedly for defending the teen and arguing that the dress code rule was discriminatory. The post is now going viral, with many commenters thanking Kevin for publicizing the incident.
The incident started when the McKenzies were headed to a cell phone store at Wolfchase Galleria in Memphis and spotted an “older white male security guard following a group of young black men not far from a mall entrance,” according to Kevin, 59, who said his “antenna went up” when he saw the young black men being targeted.
Kevin claims that as soon as the teens began to outpace the guard, the guard pulled out his radio to call in reinforcements. That’s when a black law enforcement officer appeared and escorted the young men out of the shopping center. When Kevin asked authorities what was going on, he said he was told the boys’ hoodie sweatshirts had violated a mall policy. “Hoodie profiling was news to me,” Kevin wrote.
A “code of conduct” posted at Wolfchase Galleria makes no mention of hoodie sweatshirts and only touches on its dress code by stating “Wear appropriate clothing.” McKenzie acknowleged to Yahoo Lifestyle that the mall has seen its share of crime, and that he understands “they don’t want people to come in and not be able to be identified through the cameras,” but he didn’t see any kids with their hoods up that day. He added, “To make the leap from having a crime problems to a hoodie profiling policy that ends up with a young man in hadcuuffeds is not the way to go.”
Kevin remembers the teens leaving but then returning to the mall entrance, with one declaring, “We have rights.” He told Yahoo Lifestyle, “I don’t know what that private securty guard saw that had him trail [the teens] and have them thown out, but I do know that they were challenging that policy and there was nothing on their heads.”
About four law-enforcement officials intercepted the young men before they could reenter, Kevin recalled, and threatened to arrest them for “criminally trespassing on private property.” The next thing he knew, Kevin was witnessing one of the teens — dressed in a hoodie but with the hood down — being handcuffed and led away. “In a predominantly African American area like Memphis and Shelby County, [using trespass laws to enforce the dress code policy] clearly disproportionately targets young black men,” he wrote.
Kevin was filming the entire time, and that may be why authorities targeted him next. “[A] black sheriff’s deputy approached me and told me I also was breaking the mall’s rules. ‘You’re in violation of mall policy,’ he said. ‘So you can be asked to leave too, so you might want to put your phone up,'” Kevin wrote. He kept filming, so officers then told him to leave or he too would be arrested, he claimed. But he said he didn’t even have time to respond when he found himself being placed in handcuffs and escorted down the escalator and to a back office.
While cuffed, Kevin continued to argue the injustice of the dress code. Officers explained that the mall is private property and enforces its own rules, which are set by Wolfchase Galleria’s parent company, Simon Property Group. Kevin would come to find out, while being detained, that the arresting officers were off-duty and moonlighting, even though they were wearing their Memphis Police Department uniforms and commanding the same authority while working for the mall, he described.
“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,” Kevin wrote. He said an on-duty Memphis police officer was even called away to take him more than 20 miles to the jail. Ultimately — because Kevin happened to have a toe infection that required medical care — officers finally decided to issue him a misdemeanor citation. The teen was allegedly issued a citation too, he found out, and released with a court date.
“Crime is a legitimate issue for the mall, the city and the county,” Kevin wrote in a Facebook post. “But as author and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander points out in her book, ‘The New Jim Crow,’ vague trespass laws are one legal tool that has been used to control black populations, and particularly black men, since slavery ended … I witnessed a mall-to-prison pipeline in action and I will not support it.”
Kevin said that both he and the teen were presented with a form that would ban them from the mall. Though the “thoroughly frightened” young man agreed to sign it, Kevin refused to. “I didn’t need to because I will never spend another dollar at Wolfchase,” he wrote, though he told Yahoo Lifestyle he is indeed banned from Wolfchase Galleria. “Baby Boomers like me have failed to reverse the laws and policies that have led young black men in our community to be targeted by public laws and on this private property that everyone knows is the closest thing to a suburban public square.”
When they were releasing him, officers “shook their heads at how someone as old as me would stand my ground and risk arrest,” Kevin wrote. “The real question for Memphis and Shelby County is why more people of all ages are not.”
McKenzie told Yahoo Lifestyle he has not been contacted by mall representatives since the story went viral. Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to representatives at Wolfchase Galleria and the Simon Property Group for input on the incident as well as the details of the mall’s “no hoodie” dress-code policy. We will update this story when we hear back.
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