WICHITA, Kansas - A young man believes he did nothing wrong after being arrested for criminal trespassing at Towne East Square, saying mall security racially profiled him for wearing a hoodie and a sign supporting justice for Trayvon Martin.
The arrest has brought A.J. Bohannon national attention on social media, and he says he will stand quiet no longer.
"I've been called the Martin Luther King of the city, been called A.J. X, but I just really appreciate the support because this is something that can't be overlooked anymore," he said.
Bohannon walked into Towne East Square Monday afternoon wearing a black hoodie and a sign, reading "If I don't stand for something then I will fall for anything," with the hashtag #RIPTrayvonMartin. He says he had been in the mall around 40 minutes when he went into a store and a woman started taking pictures of him, apparently offended by his message. That tipped off mall security.
"Security stopped me, asked me if I would remove my hoodie and I asked him why," Bohannon said. "He said because the mall doesn't allow people to wear hoodies. I ask him, 'Don't you sell them here?' His response was 'That doesn't matter, we don't allow you to wear them.'"
Security guards also asked him to remove the sign. Bohannon refused, stating that he wanted an explanation. Wichita police officers then responded.
"I understand it's private property, but what about me says kick me out?" Bohannon said. "[The officer asked] 'Are you going to leave, yes or no?' I say 'No sir, not until I have an explanation,' so he says 'Turn around, put your hands behind your back. You're under arrest for criminal trespassing.'"
Bohannon said he had worn the outfit at several other public places Monday and was not asked to remove the clothing.
He led a protest Tuesday night, with another planned for 6 p.m. Saturday at Towne East Square. Bohannon has been banned from the mall for 30 days and faces an August 6 court date on the criminal trespassing charge. He says it's all worth it to take a stand for what he believes in.
"Seeing all the corruption in the judicial system and the corruption in the streets, somebody has to do something," he said. "I have two five-year-old sons and a one-year-old son, so I have 13 to 17 years to make the streets of Wichita as safe as possible before my sons have to be subjected to the nonsense I've been subjected to all my life."
KSN's attempts to reach the mall for comment were unsuccessful. In a statement to the Wichita Eagle, mall manager Michael Payton said, "Although we respect individual opinions, we strive to provide the best shopping experience for all our guests. Unauthorized events are not permitted as per our standard code of conduct."
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