The Hoody Syndrome

Some would think that the direct connection between hoodies and crime was put to arrest following the killing of Trayvon Martin, where amorphous allegations of  his wearing a hoody somehow created a level of suspicion that justified what followed.  Nope.

In San Diego, 21-year-old Antonio Martinez made the mistake of wearing a hoody.

[Sheriff’s Department Captain Joe] Rodi said deputies were looking for a man in the area, possibly involved in a domestic violence dispute, when they came across Antonio Martinez.
“As the gentleman walked by, he covered his head with the hood of his sweatshirt,” said Rodi.  “Trying to conceal his identity.”
It was an act which raised the deputy’s suspicion.
When Antonio Martinez wouldn’t stop walking away as the deputy called out to him, the deputy took matters into his own hands.


Some may wonder why Martinez didn’t stop when told to do so.  To the overly compliant, such defiance offers more than sufficient justification for anything that follows.  It might have been that he chose to exercise his constitutional right to be left alone. It’s more likely that he didn’t realize the cop was talking to him, When someone yells “hey you,” it’s not exactly clear who “you” is.  It might have been that he was thinking about other things and didn’t hear the officer. The funny thing is that a person who has done nothing to elicit police interest has no reason to pay much attention to such things. After all, why would the cop be telling him to stop? It must be someone else.

But the hoodied Antonio Martinez had one additional distinguishing factor. He had Down Syndrome.


“He pepper sprayed him,”  Rodi said.  “When that wasn’t effective, he hit him with a baton, which put him on the ground, and then a couple more strikes to get his hands free. So they could hand cuff him.”
They got him in the patrol car and realized he had Down Syndrome.


That’s the police description of what happened.  A witnesses description is a little less benign.


“He got pepper-sprayed so he’s covering his eyes the cop kept saying, ‘get on the floor,’” said witness Melissa Mejia. “He was already on the floor.”
Mejia was working in her family’s shop nearby when she heard the commotion.
“He was lying down and the officer had the baton. He kicked him a couple times, like hard,” she added.
Mejia then ran to the bakery and got his older sisters and yelled at the deputy to stop.
“He has Down syndrome. Stop you know, it’s wrong,” she said she yelled. “He wouldn’t stop, he kept going.”


There are three independent components here worthy of note. This is yet another beating of a developmentally disabled person, not only innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever but among the most vulnerable in his ability to react, respond, process what is happening. Like ordering a deaf person to halt, the shocking refusal of police to control their violent urges in the face of people with disabilities puts them at heightened risk.

While cop apologists will respond, but how is a cop to know that a person is disabled, the answer is there are many in our society who have disabilities, and they aren’t entitled to immediately leap to force for their own convenience or knee-jerk self-protection at the expense of a disabled citizen.  In other words, figure it out before you beat someone.  And, once you have a hint that someone is disabled, as the witness, Mejia, told the cop, demonstrate that modicum of self-control necessary to stop the beating.

The second component is why, regardless of the fact that Martinez had Down Syndrome, was force used at all?  Not only was there no conceivable threat of force to the cop, but even if this is chalked up to “contempt of cop,” it was of such utterly minor nature to be shocking. Martinez didn’t bolt. Martinez continued to walk. And that gave rise to his being pepper sprays, beaten and kicked.  Bear in mind that the cop didn’t know that Martinez was the person involved in his potential domestic dispute, or just a guy walking down the street.

And finally, Capt. Rodi, to his credit, apologized to Antonio Martinez for what happened, but in the course of doing so “explained” the police officer’s response.


“As the gentleman walked by, he covered his head with the hood of his sweatshirt,” said Rodi.  “Trying to conceal his identity.”
It was an act which raised the deputy’s suspicion.


A little too late calling Martinez a “gentleman.” The knee-jerk assumption that Martinez, by covering his head with his hood, was “trying to conceal his identity,” as opposed to merely covering his head with his hood for whatever reason motivated him at the moment.  This, in the course of an apology, was supposed to make it all understandable, all comprehensible, to the man beaten.  This was supposed to make the wounds hurt less.

Projecting nefarious intent on innocent acts is one of the primary tools of law enforcement, used to a reaction that would be utterly unacceptable otherwise, or if offered by anyone other than a cop. This is the “furtive movement” rationale for a search or, in the most extreme cases, a killing. By merely characterizing an innocent act as something reflecting evil intent, it’s supposed to explain the beating of a man walking down the street wearing a hoody.

And as absurd as the excuse may be in this case, given its outcome, it suffices almost all the time.  Had Antonio Martinez not had Down Syndrome, what are the chances that he wouldn’t have been arrested and prosecuted for his disobeying the cop?  After all, he was wearing a hoody.

12 comments on “The Hoody Syndrome

  1. REvers

    What a stupid cop. Everybody knows the magic incantation to make a beatdown legit is “stop resisting”, not “get on the floor.”

  2. Bruce Coulson

    The idea that wearing an item of clothing is inherently suspicious and menacing is very popular. My local bank tries to insist that no one wears a hat or sunglasses (as well as a hoodie). In a state where snow, rain, etc. is not uncommon.

    Perhaps nudism should be the law of the land? It would end any disputes about concealment. There are the aesthetic concerns, though…

  3. SHG

    It might cut down on obesity. Not that people would be concerned about their appearance, but seeing other people nude could ruin one’s appetite.

  4. Bruce Coulson

    Shortly after a court ruled that women had the legal right (as men did) to go topless in my city, there was a popular ‘counter-culture’ street fair, where this sort of thing happenned. The police were sternly told that they couldn’t arrest women solely for being topless, at which point one wag lamented, “Oh man; not even the ugly ones?”

  5. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Hoody, the ‘hood, Little Red Riding Hood, hoodwinked — don’t you get it, Greenfield, there is a well-known and proven causal relationship between all that is “hood” and very bad things, so yes, the wearing of a hoody is legitimate probable cause for immediate arrest and/or execution. . .

  6. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    SHG, don’t be such an eternal pessimist — look on the bright side, should what you describe actually come to pass, just think of the copious amount of ascribed credibility you’ll accrue . . .

    But still, I have to ask, why on earth would a circus judge care about such things?? er um, nevermind . . .

  7. Bob Mc

    FWIW, Tues it was in the low 50’s and raining in San Diego. Vista is inland so it was probably cooler/wetter there.

  8. SHG

    Oh my! You mean he might have put his hood about his head because it was cold and wet, and not to conceal his identity?

  9. Bob Mc

    Yeah, probably so. But then I’m not a “highly trained” police officer.

    Maybe that’s why when I hear hoofbeats, I don’t assume there’s a herd of zebras nearby.

  10. labman57

    Some people regard young men wearing hoodies as they stroll down the street in a stereotypical manner similar to how they view young women wearing shorts skirts when they go to nightclubs — if anything bad happens to them, well, it’s their own fault.

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