Charges in what’s been dubbed the “hoodie arrests” have been dropped against 59-year-old Kevin McKenzie and 22-year-old Montavious Smith. Both were charged with criminal trespass following their arrests at Wolfchase Galleria on November 3rd. The incident sparked protests and questions about whether the mall’s code of conduct policy targeted men of color.
Local 24 News spoke to the 22-year-old the center of the arrest.
“I like wearing my hood. I keep my hood on my head,” said Montavious Smith. “I paid for it and I should be able to wear it.”
The Millington man never thought wearing his hood up at Wolfchase Galleria would lead to arrest.
“I didn’t know what was going on in the whole situation,” he said. “They just grabbed me. I thought I was going to jail the same night.”
According to records, Smith was issued a criminal trespass citation after he and three friends, who were all wearing hoodies, were told by security to remove the hoods.
Kevin McKenzie, who was shopping at the mall, recorded the incident on his cellphone. He was handcuffed after being asked to stop recording and leave the property. He too was given a citation.
Community backlash was swift.
“Systemic racism is real and we cannot ignore it,” said Rye Estepp.
Estepp was just one of many people to stand up, questioning mall policy. She and a group of friends, all white, went to the mall and wore hoodies after Smith’s arrest. She said her group didn’t receive harsh treatment like Smith and his friends.
“We all pulled our hoods up over our faces on purpose,” she said. “The only thing that happened to us was someone came up to us very politely asked us to take our hoods down, and that’s not fair.”
Their stance made the news rounds.
“We support the mall’s right to have a policy like that. We support the ability to enforce a policy like that. Our issue is when the policies are not enforced equally.”
The unfair enforcement also caught the attention of the local activist group, Memphis Hoodie March.
Earlier this month the group issued a news release to mall management. In the release, members requested the charges be dropped and demanded the mall make changes to its code of conduct signs in regard to hoodies.
Following Thursday’s dismissal of charges, Local 24 News reached out Wolfchase Galleria for comment.
In a statement management said, “Wolfchase Galleria did not press charges in this case. Wolfchase Galleria continues its long-standing practice of reviewing and enhancing security policies and procedures…”
As for whether guests can wear hoodies, management said hoodies are acceptable as long as a person’s face remains visible.
As for Smith, he’s glad Kevin McKenzie filmed his arrest and that the video went public.
“People can see the racial profiling that had went on and it’s going to make a change.”
Charges against McKenzie were also dropped. Local 24 News reached out to the Cordova man, but he declined to comment.