Hoodies have been all over the news since seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed while wearing one in a gated residential complex in Florida last month. Martin, who was black, was visiting family in the area when community-watch volunteer George Zimmerman began following him because he says he thought he looked suspicious, and ultimately, and allegedly, shot him dead.
Even before Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder last week, hooded sweatshirts had become a symbol of racial profiling and inspired all sorts of protests, including one by Illinois congressman Bobby Rush, who wore a hoodie and sunglasses on the House floor (before being escorted out), and tweets and pictures from NBA players like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
But in the banking world, hoodies have long been regarded with suspicion — and with good reason, says Jennifer Waller, senior vice president of the Colorado Bankers Association. "Bank robbers try to disguise themselves as much as possible" by covering up their hair or any other distinguishing marks like neck tattoos and hairstyles, she points out. As a result, banks typically ask customers to take off their hats, sunglasses and, yes, the hoods of their sweatshirts while they are inside a branch.
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The American National Bank branch at 3033 East First Avenue in Cherry Creek North recently posted a sign on its front door outlining the prohibited garments, but the policy is nothing new, according to teller Judy Romero. "If you walk into our lobby, it's always been posted, but a lot of people didn't see it, so they posted it on the outside windows," she says. "When you're in the lobby, they want a good description of you at the teller windows. They like to get a good picture of your face." The branch is part of the Denver-based chain of ANB banks in Colorado and Wyoming, and all of them have the same policy.
The rules are supposed to be more of a suggestion than a requirement, explains Waller, who notes that the CBA created a "No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses" poster about three years ago that any Colorado bank can use; it's part of a national campaign. Some banks have a special teller who will help customers who don't want to comply, she says, adding that the issue has also come up with burkas worn by Muslim women.
"If someone comes up wearing a hat or sunglasses or a hood, the teller will ask them to remove it. But we are encouraging banks not to decline serving someone if they are wearing a hoodie," she adds. "I don't think anyone would care if someone was wearing a hoodie and the hood was down."