Two men who made headlines in November after they were arrested in a case of alleged racial profiling have had all charges against them dismissed. One of the men had been apprehended for violating the mall’s “no hoodie” dress code, and the second man had been detained shortly after for defending him — and for filming the incident.
But the man who was filming, Kevin McKenzie, told Yahoo Lifestyle it’s “not satisfying” to have the charges dropped against him and Montavious Smith, the man who was wearing the hoodie. “The mall-to-prison pipeline is still intact,” said the former journalist, who posted his video to Facebook right after the Nov. 3 incident took place in order to publicize what he calls “an injustice.”
At the time, McKenzie’s wife, Peggy, said on Facebook that her husband had “the most shocking, infuriating, humiliating experience” when he witnessed Smith and his friends being followed by an “older white male security guard,” then quickly being confronted, handcuffed and escorted out of the Wolfchase Galleria mall in Memphis, Tenn. McKenzie said his “antenna went up,” especially since Smith, who is a father, did not even have his hood up.
So McKenzie decided to intervene and capture it all on his cellphone. That’s when security guards turned their attention to him, he told Yahoo Lifestyle. The guard said, “You’re in violation of mall policy. So you can be asked to leave too, so you might want to put your phone up.” But McKenzie refused. That’s when he found himself in a similar predicament — being handcuffed and detained.
The incident caused an uproar in the community. It made its way to a group of white women who decided to take a trip to the Wolfchase Galleria a few weeks later — all wearing hoodies — to prove a point. If they were able to get away with the same transgression that got Smith kicked out and arrested, they reasoned, then it was a clear case of racial profiling. They wrote on Instagram that they were able to walk around the mall with their hoods on. If a security guard asked them to remove their hoods, they did.
“This is blatantly unfair, and we knew nothing would happen to us. We knew before we even started,” one of the women, Sherry Ennis, told Yahoo Lifestyle at the time. “These are young men that did nothing wrong. All these men did was go to the mall and wear hoodies and be African-American,” she said.
McKenzie’s video also made its way to Team ROC, a division of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation devoted to fighting racial injustices. Team ROC was able to secure two lawyers to defend Smith and McKenzie pro bono, according to the Grio. The attorneys were able to get the charges dropped last week. They also met with mall officials to try to change a dress-code policy many suspect targets black youth. The new policy states, “Hoodies are acceptable as long as the guest’s face remains visible.”
Dania Diaz, Roc Nation’s managing director of philanthropy, told Yahoo Lifestyle, “Our goal is to use our shared resources to combat injustice and amplify the need for universal equality, so we’re glad to have rallied around Montavious in his time of need, and we’re thrilled that the charges against him have been dismissed.” She said Roc Nation is also “incredibly appreciative” to officials at the Simon Property Group — which owns Wolfchase Galleria — for collaborating with them to change the dress-code policy.
Smith told Yahoo Lifestyle he’s grateful that the charges against him were dismissed.
“The last couple months haven’t been easy for me and my family, but I’m looking forward to turning this negative situation into an educational opportunity for local and national communities alike,” he said in a statement.
But McKenzie isn’t as optimistic and feels the problem is a systemic one. “Young African-American men are still vulnerable to being racially profiled and criminalized for ordinary behavior like wanting to go to the mall to buy some clothes,” he said, noting that “there are millions of people that face this every day for behavior that should have never been criminalized in the first place.”
McKenzie continued: “When the Wolfchase mall folks announced they didn’t want the charges to be pressed any further, it wasn’t up to them anymore. The criminal justice system had already dropped it into the machine.” He said it was then up to the prosecutors to decide whether he and Smith were criminal defendants — and it’s that very system that “needs to be dismantled,” he said.
He was, however, impressed with the four white women who helped demonstrate the racial profiling theory he put forth.
He contacted them in January, thanking them for their “support and action,” Shannon Arthur, one of the four hoodie-wearing friends, told Yahoo Lifestyle. She also expressed her relief at the charges being dismissed. “I’m happy that Mr. Smith and Mr. McKenzie can now put this behind them,” she said. “I understand that Wolfchase mall has revised their clothing policy. I hope the new policy is consistently enforced with all members of our community.”
Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to Simon Properties, owners of the Wolfchase Galleria, for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
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