Rise Above Fashion

It was an early Friday morning, a day planned to be one of the most rewarding for Joshua Woods because he would finally get his hands on those Nike Air Jordan XI ‘Bred’ sneakers. It began as a simple trip to Willowbrook Mall with his friend; they had woken up early in order to be first in line in what is known to be one of the craziest, most consumer-hungry retail lines in history. Woods and his friend had eventually gotten what they had hoped for, red and black retro J’s which had first been released in 2001 and had only become available to the public in the United States the morning of Friday, December 21, 2012. But, the release date of these Air Jordan Sneakers also marked the death of 22-year-old Joshua Woods.

It all began with the NBA rookie of the Chicago Bulls- Michael Jordan. Air Jordans, produced by Nike and Michael Jordan for Nike’s Jordan Brand subsidiary, were displayed to the public eye when Jordan wore them himself as a rookie in 1984. First seen as a dress-code violation in the NBA for its elaborate red and black colors, Jordan was fined 5,000 dollars which Nike paid without a problem because of all of the exposure Jordan gave the shoes. Air Jordans were then released for public consumption in 1985, with new designs released annually thereafter. For Jordan, these shoes had created a phenomenon, carrying his legacy on even after his retirement from professional basketball; for the public, these phenomenal, value-packed shoes had created an increasingly dangerous environment for many young men throughout the country.

After buying several pairs of the newly released Jordans, Joshua Woods and his friend were followed home by another car. It was around 10:30 AM when Woods’ friend had stopped at his house, but in doing so, three armed men ran up to the car and demanded the two men give them their newly purchased shoes. Shots were fired.Woods’ friend had managed to run from the armed robbers, but Woods was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries and pronounced dead on December 26, 2012. The three suspects, two of them being 18 years of age and the other 19 years of age, were arrested and charged with capital murder.

On the morning of December 11, 2012, 16-year-old Juan Reyna was gunned down by 19-year-old Yusef Villanueva inside Villanueva’s home. According to the victim’s father, the violence erupted during an argument over the expensive Air Jordan sneakers Reyna had recently purchased from the alleged gunman. After Villanueva realized he had sold the Jordans for a cheaper price than he intended, he stole Reyna’s shoes and refused to give him back his money, leading to a violent argument. Reyna died at 6:50 PM of a shotgun wound to the abdomen, a week before his 17th birthday.

Although there have been many recent crimes of attempted theft and murder committed, Air Jordans violence dates back to the few years after they had been released.

For 15-year-old Michael Eugene Thomas, his purchase of Jordan sneakers stripped him away from the world too soon. A ninth-grader at Meade Senior High School, Thomas was found strangled on May 2, 1989. Charged with first-degree murder was James David Martin, 17, a basketball buddy who allegedly took Thomas’s two-week-old Air Jordan basketball shoes and left Thomas’s barefoot body in the woods near school. In April 1989, 16-year-old Johnny Bates was shot to death in Houston by 17-year-old Demetrick Walker after Johnny refused to turn over his Air Jordan high-tops. In March, Demetrick was sentenced to life in prison.

There have been many deaths regarding not only Air Jordan shoes, but other apparel that carry a high-valued brand name on it. Armed robberies have resulted in the deaths of many young men who wish for nothing more than to show off their latest designer brand item, resulting in the loss of a life for both the victim and the alleged killers, but for what? Is it worth dying for something as little as a shoe? Or living long enough to value the importance of life itself?

Although these young men should be held responsible for what they have done, they are a victim of what you and I are of too, materialism- the preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values. We have come to value what the person next to us is wearing, rather than the person who is wearing it.

Justice does not only come down to blaming those accountable, but by understanding why it happened. We must acknowledge that the appraisal of something as little as a shoe has come to determine the outcome of one’s life and future. Young men are losing their lives: all that is left is their barefoot bodies for their family and friends to identify. All because of a shoe.