East Village church dons hoodies against profiling

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Associate Minister Chad Tanaka Pack led a prayer at Sunday’s service, above.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Calling for an end to racism and profiling, members of an East Village congregation on Sunday wore hooded sweatshirts as they prayed.

The shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Florida, on Feb. 26 has sparked an ongoing nationwide outrage and soul-searching.

Martin, who had been returning home from the store after buying iced tea and Skittles, and was wearing a hoodie in the rain, was deemed “suspicious” by George Zimmerman, 28, an armed, so-called “watch captain” for a gated community. Despite being told by police not to follow Martin, Zimmerman did. There was some sort of scuffle and, tragically, the in-his-own-mind, pseudo-cop shot the innocent youth to death.

So far, Zimmerman has not been arrested under Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, in which people are allowed to fight back in self-defense against alleged attackers.

Calling the killing a tragedy that must be fully investigated, President Obama said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

However, causing a firestorm of controversy, Geraldo Rivera said parents of black and Latino youths should tell their children to stop wearing hoodies.

Two days before his remarks, hundreds of demonstrators had gathered in Union Square for a “Million Hoodie March.”

“I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,” Rivera said last Friday, blasting hoodies — as well as sagging pants — as “gangsta fashion.”

“You gonna be a gangsta wannabe?” Rivera said. “Well, people are gonna perceive you as a menace. … You cannot rehabilitate the hoodie. Stop wearing it.”

Rivera said he tells this to his own son, Cruz, who is dark-complexioned. But last Friday, Rivera tweeted that Cruz was “ashamed” of his dad’s comments on hoodies. On Tuesday, Rivera apologized. Still, he said he feels parents must do what it takes to keep their kids safe.

On Sunday, at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, hundreds of worshipers — wearing hoodies — gathered to remember Trayvon and call for an end to profiling and prejudice.

Associate Minister Chad Tanaka Pack led a prayer. As congregation members pulled their hoodies over their heads, he noted that in many religions, people cover their heads to worship.

Reverend Jacqui Lewis, the church’s senior minister, preached and also gave a call to action. Lewis, who is African-American, said, sadly, there seems to be an ongoing sense of racism in America, particularly against “black boys,” but that it affects everyone.

“Racism hurts all of our children,” said Lewis, who wore a pink hoodie.

She encouraged congregants, both those in the pews and the roughly 40 who worship with Middle Collegiate virtually via the Internet, to take photos of themselves in hoodies and post them on the church’s Web page, with the words “I’m not dangerous. Racism is.”

Normally, the church sees about 350 worshipers on a Sunday, but last Sunday — due to the outpouring of concern over Trayvon’s killing — there were 450, with an overflow crowd of 75 people.

Lewis said that, while she’s not a lawyer, it clearly seemed that Zimmerman, who had been sitting in his car and then decided to get out and tail Trayvon on foot, had been “provoking an incident.”

“It is not new news, it is sad news, that black bodies frighten people,” Lewis said. “Post-9/11, seeming Middle Eastern bodies frighten people. Profiling doesn’t just happen to African-Americans in our nation, but it does happen to African-Americans in our country,” she noted. “We’re tired of that happening, tired of racism and xenophobia.”

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A Middle Collegiate Church congregation member wore her hoodie up as the assembly sang on Sunday.
Many members of the multiracial E. Seventh St. church wore their hoodies throughout the service, despite the fact that it was a warm day and the temperature inside the sanctuary rose further due to all the body heat. Even Amelia Rose, at six weeks old, the church’s youngest member, wore a little pink striped hoodie.

Middle Collegiate members are now writing to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for justice in Trayvon’s killing, and are also sending Skittles to the Sanford Police Department, which has refused to arrest Zimmerman.

And they’ll continue to wear their hoodies at services until Zimmerman is arrested, Lewis said, “hoping that justice will come.”

Lewis said her call to action was not a response to Rivera’s comments, but rather to “urban profiling” and the perception of certain fashions being used as a marker.