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Archive for Wednesday, June 1, 2005

British government cracks down on hoodies

June 1, 2005

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— Britain has a new public enemy - the teenager in a hooded sweat shirt.

Hoods, no longer just an adolescent fashion statement, lie at the center of a debate over what many, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, see as an alarming rise in bad behavior.

Blair says rowdy public drunkenness, noisy neighbors, petty street crime, even graffiti and vandalism - are top priorities. He is enthusiastically backing an English shopping mall's ban on hoods, baseball caps and other headgear that obscure the face.

"It is time to reclaim the streets for the decent majority," Blair told the House of Commons.

"People are rightly fed up with street-corner and shopping-center thugs, ... binge drinking that makes our town centers no-go areas for respectable citizens."

Several public places have banned hoods since the Bluewater mall in Kent, eastern England got widespread publicity for doing so in May.

Mina Salani, 41, said she felt more comfortable working at a hair accessory stall at the Elephant and Castle mall in south London since it banned hoods. Some teens shoplifted in hoods, knowing their faces would be hidden from security cameras, she said.

"They look like gangsters," Salani said. "They look frightening."

A few teens in a group hanging out at the mall had hooded shirts but kept their heads bare. They said they knew their hoods scared some people, but they insisted they meant no harm and wore them only to keep warm or in style.

"Because you've got a hoodie on, people pull their bag closer, they take a few steps away," said Goonda Hassan, 21. "They think everybody who wears a hoodie is a thief."

Blair has been highlighting the issue of boorish behavior for years. In 1998, he pushed through legislation empowering courts to ban any number of anti-social activities, including shouting, swearing, spray-painting, playing loud music or simply associating with the wrong people.

Freshly elected to a third term, he is renewing the effort.

Blair is "in touch with a core middle England anxiety," said Paul Skidmore, of the London think tank Demos. His support for the hood ban "has clearly resonated with people."

Not everyone is at peace with it, however.

The Association of Chief Police Officers cautions against demonizing any element of youth culture, saying it doesn't know whether hooded teens are committing more crimes than other groups.

And many say Blair's crackdown ignores the causes, such as a lack of after-school programs and other productive activities for young people.

"For them to occupy themselves, what are they going to do, vandalize graveyards, ... wear their hoodies, look a little menacing?" said Olive Hutchinson, a shopper at the Elephant and Castle mall.

"If there were youth clubs and places for them to go, we wouldn't be having this conversation," said her friend, Sandra Jackson.

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