WASHINGTON — Rep. Bobby Rush went to the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday with two thoughts: a hoodie is not a hat. Nor is it an article of clothing that's a true measure of an individual.
But when Rush, D-Ill., dramatically shed his suit jacket, donned a pair of sunglasses and pulled a hoodie over his head in a show of solidarity with those protesting the handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, he was scolded for violating House rules of decorum and escorted from the chamber.
For the 65-year-old former 1960s Black Panther Party activist, an act of civil disobedience never felt so good.
"I had recollections of my younger life," Rush told reporters afterward. "This came up from inside, the whole thing, it felt good doing it. It's the least I can do to fight for justice for Trayvon Martin and others."
Martin, 17, was fatally shot in Sanford, Fla., last month by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch captain who thought Martin looked suspicious. A 911 attendant advised Zimmerman not to follow Martin. Zimmerman's lawyer says Martin provoked the confrontation and assaulted Zimmerman, who shot in self-defense. Details of what happened are under investigation.
Martin's death, and the lack of any arrest in the incident, have sparked a wave of protests nationwide, including people ranging from the Miami Heat basketball team to former Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm donning hoodies to protest the shooting and the way local police handled the case.
Rush appeared to be conducting House business as usual as one of several lawmakers who took to the floor during the morning hour — a time when members can speak for up to five minutes on any topic they choose.
"Racial profiling has to stop," Rush said as he began to peel away his gray pinstripe suit jacket to reveal a gray hooded sweatshirt. "Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum. Just because someone is a young black male and wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum."
Almost immediately, Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., who was presiding over the House, pounded his gavel, ordered Rush to suspend his remarks, and then proclaimed him out of order.
But Rush pressed on.
"A hood on the head does not mean a hood in the head," he said. "I applaud the young people across this nation who are making a statement about hoodies and the real hoodlum, particularly those who tread on our laws wearing official or quasi-official cloaks."
Harper called for Rush to be removed from the chamber. He declared that the Illinois lawmaker violated Clause 5 of Rule 17 of House rules that forbids hats from being worn in the chamber when the House is in session.
"Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor," Harper said.
"The rules say you can't wear a hat," Rush told reporters afterward. "A hood is not a hat, so I kind of stretched the rule."
After all, Rush said, "sometimes decorum has to take a back seat, especially when it comes to justice."
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