Typically, it's against the dress code at Southampton public schools to wear a hood up in classrooms and hallways, but for the past three Fridays, several students have been spotted in hoodies — with the school administration's blessing — as an act of protest.
The quiet demonstration is designed to raise awareness of the killing of unarmed African-American teen Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26. Subsequent comments in the media said the hoodie Martin was wearing when he was shot bore as much responsibility for his death as the man who pulled the trigger, George Zimmerman.
“Trayvon Martin was killed because of racial profiling, because of his skin color, and because he was perceived to be suspicious because he had a hoodie on,” said student Tavia Jeffries, 13, the North Sea eighth-grader who initiated the awareness campaign.
“When I saw it on TV, I told my mom I wanted to do something about it,” Jeffries said, adding that she also learned from watching the news that students at schools around the country were wearing hoodies in solidarity.
Her mother, teaching assistant Natasha Jeffries, helped her get the school administration to agree to break with the dress code once a week and allow students to wear hoodies on Fridays.
“We wanted peaceful protest,” Tavia Jeffries said. “We want to make a stand so people know that we care and we know what’s going on.”
According to reports and a 9-1-1 tape, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, called police to report a suspicious male in his gated Sanford, Fla., community. The 911 operator instructed Zimmerman not to follow the person, but there was a confrontation that ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin, a 17-year-old visiting family. Zimmerman told police he acted in self defense and he was released, but in April he was charged with second-degree murder.
“It was wrong for [Zimmerman] to take it into his own hands and shoot him,” Jeffries said, adding that she opposes “Stand Your Ground,” the Florida law cited when Zimmerman was not immediately arrested and charged. “You could just shoot them for no reason — I don’t think that’s right.”
Those who joined Jeffries' protest carry cards to show teachers and other students that explains why they are wearing their hoodies and they were given the opportunity to formally address classmates during lunch periods and an English class.
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Ricky Brumsey, 17, is taking the protest very seriously. The Southampton Village resident and High School junior said that during the first week he taped photos of Martin to his shirt and carried an iced tea can and bag of Skittles — the items Martin was reportedly carrying when Zimmerman followed him.
Brumsey said it is out of respect for Martin. “I wear my hoodie because I feel a lot of people criticize him,” he said. “They said a lot of things about him that weren’t true.”
“It’s a sign of respect for justice,” added Devon Trent, 17, also a junior and village resident. “We wear our hoodies to show we care.”
In the first two weeks, Brumsey said he was kicked out of class by a teacher unaware that he had permission from the school administration to wear his hoodie. But he said there is now greater awareness in the school. There are more student wearing hoodies, and he makes a point of telling them they are doing a good thing, he said.
“My mom thought it was good and was proud I was making a stand,” said eighth-grader Elisia Ivey, 14, of the . “We can go home feeling good that we did something good.”