The national discussion regarding the death of Trayvon Martin and the suspicious nature of wearing a hooded sweatshirt, brings up the issue of whether adorning yourself with certain clothing perceives one as a suspicious character. We all recall the 'Uni-bomber' and his hooded garb. We often see banks asking those wearing hooded clothing to remove their hoods before entering. The question then is what type of clothing will not subject a person to suspicion or bodily harm? California law has been fairly liberal on this issue in that the wearing of nonconforming clothing has been a constitutionally protected form of free speech or a freedom of choice issue. A while ago patrons of county fairs were not allowed to wear their baseball caps in reverse by Orange County Sheriffs. Those of us during the Vietnam War era recall the cases of wearing a jacket adorned with the American Flag or the mnemonic for fornication under carnal knowledge.
I had to deal with the issue of free speech at Chatsworth High in 2004 when I chose a Nike cap over a Chatsworth approved one. I edified the vice-principal about freedom of choice for at least adults at a sporting event in the cool fall air facing the sun as it sets.
Hooded garb has been associated with gangs and with criminal activity for centuries. Many a convenience store robbery is marked by a hooded gunman. Hoods are part of 'hoodlums' aren't they? Hoodies have been made popular by sports figures including Biil Belichickcalled, "The Hoodie," by Jim Rome. Yet now, they are a statement piece of clothing. Needless to say that as the weather warms, justification for wearing a hoodie lessens in California, but that does not change our suspicions, and it is our suspicions that dictate how we act. Can businesses ban certain items of clothing? California law says, "no." You can't ask someone to remove his yarmulke or ask them to remove their turban as a condition for a person to transact business in your establishment. But, what if the security of your customers are at risk? Again, the answer is, "no." Our state constitution protects those who wear creative clothing. Is is smart to dress as a person who society would describe as a suspicious person? Probably not, but wearing a hoodie, whether black or red, is part of our freedom of choice, like it or not.