The Risk Management Industry Teaches Us to See a Hoodie As a Potential Threat

I am dismayed that the risk management industry is training law enforcement and college officials to see a hoodie or "harmful debate" as a potential threat.
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Today I want to look at just one aspect of the Zimmerman/Martin case: the "hoodie" that Trayvon Martin reportedly was wearing when he was identified by George Zimmerman as a potential threat to the neighborhood. The idea that this common item of clothing could be perceived as marking someone as a threat has sparked hoodie protests all over the country and even one by a member of Congress.

Sadly, there is a campus threat assessment model that actually identifies wearing "hoodies" as a sign of aggression. That comes from the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA), an organization that has classified regular speech and conduct as a potential threat.

NaBITA and its sister organization, NCHERM (the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management), have engaged a lot of resources advising universities about how to watch out for potential threats on campus. In a 2009 NaBITA advisory report, various kinds of speech and behavior are put on a nine-level scale, with a student at level 9 being the next mass shooter. At levels 1-3, the following behavior is identified:

This aggressor becomes more distant and argumentative, demonstrating a lack of understanding and empathy. They conceal and deceive as to their motives and intent. For example, professors may notice this distancing in the classroom through averted eye contact or wearing concealing clothing, such as hoodies or long coats. (p. 5, emphasis added)

Also dangerous at these levels, according to NaBITA, is "harmful debate." Even at level 1, the response options include "evaluate for disability services and/or medical referral."

But that's not all. At level 4, where someone is declared a "moderate risk," NaBITA's definition includes "subtle undermining," explaining that "in a college setting, this may involve attempts to embarrass students in class, flouting a resident advisor's authority ...."

And at level 6, an example is: "In a college context, we could perceive a student aggrieved at the loss of an SGA election who lashes out at the winner as having stolen the election."

I think that happens in pretty much every single SGA election. I think much of this rubric is alarmist rather than reasonable.

As for hoodies, George Zimmerman was studying criminal justice at Seminole State College until the school expelled him. It would not be surprising to see NaBITA's threat assessment model in a course these days, now that universities and government bodies are putting everybody's questionable behavior in threat databases.

We don't know exactly what happened on the night when Trayvon Martin was killed, and we don't know whether or not Zimmerman was taught to fear hoodies. But I am dismayed that the risk management industry is training law enforcement and college officials to see a hoodie or "harmful debate" as a potential threat.

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