For Aaron Bohannon, the gathering at the corner of Douglas and Rock Road on Tuesday meant more than making a statement about his arrest at Towne East Square on Monday.
It was also not only to show displeasure with the George Zimmerman verdict — who was acquitted over the weekend in the shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin — but to show that race is an issue that needs to be talked about.
Holding signs saying “Justice for Trayvon” and wearing shirts with the slogan “Stand for something or fall for anything #Igotyoback,” Bohannon and about 50 others gathered at the corner for about three hours. Some wore hoodies with the hoods up as the sun beat down on them. Others chose to wear signs around their necks.
About 100 yards away in the mall’s parking lot, about five Wichita police officers watched.
Bohannon, 25, was arrested Monday night for criminal trespassing at Towne East while walking around the mall wearing a black hoodie and a sign saying, “If I don’t stand for something then I will fall for anything #RIPTrayvon Martin.”
Bohannon said Tuesday afternoon that he didn’t do anything wrong prior to his arrest. He said he was told by the mall security guard that he couldn’t wear his hooded sweatshirt in the mall.
“If I can’t wear a hoodie here, why are you selling hoodies here?” Bohannon said Tuesday. “That doesn’t make sense.”
The code of conduct posted at entrances to Simon properties — including Towne East and Towne West — includes the following prohibition:
“Wearing apparel that obscures or conceals the face, including but not limited to hoodies or masks, or apparel that may provoke or incite violence is prohibited.”
Matt Whitfield, a day shift supervisor for Towne East’s security, said wearing a hoodie in and of itself would not be considered a violation, but “don’t wear your hood up.”
“Although we respect individual opinions, we strive to provide the best shopping experience for all our guests,” Towne East mall manager Michael Payton said in a statement. “Unauthorized events are not permitted as per our standard code of conduct.”
Bohannon said a security guard told him he needed to remove his hoodie, which he did. He then told him he needed to remove the sign around his neck, which he refused to do.
The guard told him he couldn’t protest inside the mall, Bohannon said, but he claimed the sign was an expression of free speech and not a protest. The guard warned him that he would call the police, but Bohannon still didn’t remove the sign.
Instead, he walked to the food court, where police found him and – at the request of mall management – handcuffed him.
“I wasn’t expecting to get arrested,” he said. “I don’t need to be locked up.”
Alveno McPhaul was one of those gathered at Douglas and Rock on Tuesday. He said he wasn’t friends with Bohannon, but heard about the gathering through Facebook.
“I think this is a sign that some of the issues with race definitely still need to be addressed,” McPhaul said. “Right now it’s sort of a hush-hush situation.”