Popular Culture

Sneaker Wars: Violence For the Love of Shoes


We live in a commercial culture. Our goals for the future, our religion, and even our families often take a back seat to our desire for material things. While our caveman ancestors wore skins and pelts to protect themselves from the elements, the things we wear become important status symbols. In our materialistic times, sneakers especially have taken hold of our youth culture. Many poor children (and pathetic adults) across the world would do just about anything for a pair of Jordans.

Therein lies the problem. Corporate advertising has made the importance of owning a pair of designer sneakers of equal or greater importance than life, death or serious injury. The following cases are of those who couldn’t separate their need for sneakers from moral or man-made law. Let the sneaker violence commence:

James David Martin

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James David Martin was plagued by the need for Jordans. It was an obsession that led him to commit murder in Baltimore in 1989.

Fifteen-year-old Michael Eugene Thomas had recently (with the help of his mother) been able to dole out the $115.50 (a small fortune at the time) for a pair of Jordan sneakers. He kept their box and the receipt in a place of honor in his room, and cleaned the sneakers every night.

Thomas’ grandmother warned him against wearing the shoes to school, weary of what people would do for them. Thomas simply replied, “Granny, before I let anyone take those shoes, they’ll have to kill me.”

That’s exactly what James David Martin did. Martin was only 17 at the time, and had been friends with Thomas through basketball. But that didn’t stop him from strangling Thomas and leaving his shoeless body to rot in the woods near their school in Maryland. Martin, being the criminal mastermind he was, wore the shoes to school the next day. Not surprisingly, He was arrested and charged with murder.

“I can’t believe it,” Michael Jordan said in response. “Choked to death, by his friend.”

Tiana Browne

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The motivation behind most sneaker-related violence is jealousy. Tiana Browne was so greenly envious of her cousin Shannon Braithwaite that she stabbed her over 30 times, in large part over her gadgets and designer Coach shoes in September, 2008.

Browne called her cousin’s mother at 4 A.M. two days before the murder. She was frantic and desperate for somewhere to spend the night. Two days later Marva Braithwaite came home to find her daughter’s body covered in blood and slashes.

The Prosecutor in the case, Mark Hale, maintains that Browne snapped over her cousin’s possessions, especially the shoes, and decided to kill her over them. Browne’s attorney maintains that the killing was a direct result of multiple rapes Browne was subjected to as a teenager, and has asked that she be found “not responsible” for the murder due to “reasons of disease or mental condition.”

Delaware Sneaker Theft and Threat

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Fortunately, not all sneaker violence leads to murder. Sometimes knives are pulled and threats are made but fortunately no one is actually injured.

That was the case at a Delaware Sports Authority in October, 2010. It wasn’t Oceans Eleven, but three unnamed suspects still came up with a strange sneaker heist based on the threat of violence.

Two suspects, a male and a female, entered the Sports Authority, went over to a rack of displayed sneakers and put three pairs in their jackets. As they were leaving, a security officer attempted to prevent them from exiting the store. That’s when a third suspect showed up, brandishing a pocketknife and threatening the employee.

The three suspects hastily made their escape in a white Chevrolet Blazer. At this time they are all still at large.

Scott Younes

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Sneaker violence isn’t confined to those who want sneakers and are willing to do anything for them. Sometimes just wearing the wrong color sneakers in a particular neighborhood can start a chain of events that leads to murder.

In 1995, two teens, Mike Lopez, 14 and Geneva Mendoza, 16 set off to get a pack of gum in southwest Detroit. They were both wearing black and blue sneakers, clearly a ludicrous error of judgment on their part.

Several members of a street gang known as the “Latin Counts” confronted the teens for their choice of sneaker color (the Counts wear red and black). The gang members beat Lopez severely as Mendoza ran to get help. As it turns out, this was a terrible mistake.

Mendoza’s help came in the form of her father and her older brother, Ted McClellan, 38 and Teddy Mendoza, 18, respectively. The two set out to find the gang that battered Lopez, and eventually came across one of the gang members.

During the encounter, McClellan made the brilliant suggestion that the street tough “Fight my son one on one.” Someone get this man a “world’s #1 dad” coffee mug.

At this point police officer Jerry Philpot became involved. Philpot arrested Valentino Salinas, 16, an alleged member of the Latin Counts. Later that day Scott Younes, Salinas’ uncle (and an alleged Count leader) came to pick Salinas up from the 4th Precinct.

The violence was nowhere near over. That night Officer Philpot returned to the neighborhood to look for his flashlight that had gone missing at some point during the day. Soon however, he found himself responding to a shootout at McClellan’s house, along with several other officers.

Latin Counts at first fired on McClellan’s house, but soon got into a gunfight with police, during which Philpot was shot and later died during surgery that night. Witnesses identified Scott Younes as the murderer, and FBI agents arrested Younes the next day.

The Nike Pigeon Riot

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Not all sneaker violence stems from people attacking one another for prized kicks. What happens when you combine manic sneaker fiends, a Lower East side boutique and an extremely limited release? Sneaker riot!

In 2005, Nike released an extremely sought after pair of Dunks, the Pigeons. Only 150 pairs were released and sold exclusively in New York City. The streets were growling, even starving for the sneakers and true Sneakerheads were willing to do just about anything to get them.

One boutique in the Lower East Side told shoppers it would be selling the Pigeons for $300 each. Everyone knew that the store had an extremely limited supply, but around 70 people camped out for 48 hours for the sneakers’ release. Unfortunately, there were only 20 pairs of Pigeons available. A mini-riot broke out between successful Pigeon purchasers, those who failed and workers at the store. Police intervened to stop the riot and thankfully were successful.

Nike, please don’t come up with any more schemes that are guaranteed to suck the soles from Sneakerheads. It’s hazardous to everyone, and it’s hard enough to deal with these people every day in NYC.

Shawn Jones

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Baltimore and Detroit are two of the world’s biggest sneaker violence hotspots. It’s a systemic problem with a lot of history.

It should be mentioned that the sneakers themselves are not to blame for these murders. The reason why places like Baltimore and Detroit keep coming up is because large portions of their populace have been living for decades under economic and criminal pestilence. Raise any group of people in a violent, deprived society where they have little to no means to support themselves and watch how quickly they will kill for small tokens and idolatry.

The murder of Shawn Jones in 1985 Detroit is just further proof of this. Jones, 13, was walking outside of a YMCA when he was shot and murdered by five teens for a $112 pair of Fila sneakers. A popular chain of shoe stores in Detroit at the time, Sibley’s Shoes discontinued selling the shoes in response. Kudos on addressing the actual problem, people of Detroit.

The Cool Grey Jordan Riot

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The sneaker riot game isn’t restricted to NYC Pigeon Dunks, far from it. This past Christmas Nike re-released an extremely rare and popular edition of the Jordan 11 Retros, the Cool Greys. It was a little bit too much for the people of Texas to deal with.

Police were called to two Houston-area malls because of damage to entrances and fighting amongst shoppers trying to get pairs of the Cool Greys, which haven’t been released since 2001 and are a mob favorite.

Workers at a Round Rock Premium Outlet were wary of letting 100 bloodthirsty sneaker fiends in all at once, which led to pushing and shoving by those desperate to pay $175 for a pair. A bargain compared to what the shoes would be worth in the coming months.

In all the instances, police were called and restored order, detaining some people but arresting none. After all, it’s got to be the shoes!

Lorenzo McKittrick

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Sneaker violence can strike anywhere, even Wisconsin.

Lorenzo McKittrick, 16, was walking home in July 2010 when he made the fatal mistake of walking down an alley behind a Madison-area shopping mall.

There he found Ke’Andre Frazier, 17, who asked if he might borrow McKittrick’s cell phone. McKittrick obliged, but moments later Frazier allegedly began kicking and beating McKittrick. After McKittrick fell, prosecutors say Frazier stomped on his head until McKittrick was dead.

When McKittrick was found, he was shoeless, because Frazier had taken McKittrick’s black and red Jordan V’s, as well as his cell phone. When police arrested Frazier for the crime, Frazier was wearing Jordans two sizes too large. Those Jordans are undoubtedly in a Ziploc bag at this moment.

Frazier, a convicted rapist, has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide for killing McKittrick.

Lakers Championship Riot

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LA has had a history of riots (Rodney King in 1992, the Watts riots of the 60’s) but nothing quite like the 2009 Lakers Championship riot.

After the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in five games, fans decided to partake in the mindless tradition of destroying their own city. Buses, news vans, cars and police vehicles were destroyed. Several rioters also began throwing rocks and bottles at police.

Amidst the mayhem, an opportunistic few realized their proximity to The Holy Grail, a consignment sneaker boutique located near the Staples Center. Sneaker sellers bring their sneakers to the store to sell for them, for a percentage of the sale. If the store didn’t compensate the consignees, there probably was some more sneaker violence that followed.

Roman Gill

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In April 2009, an unnamed Long Island teen was attempting to peacefully ride an eastbound A train through Bed-Stuy. This was not meant to be.

When the Long Island teen was passing through the Nostrand station, Roman Gill, 17, and around nine flunkies decided it was time to steal some sneakers. They punched, kicked and eventually stabbed the Long Island youth deep in his ribcage. Gill and his henchmen stole the boy’s sneakers and cellphone and absconded.

The injured Long Island teen was able to call his mother, who called police and rushed him to the hospital. Gill was arrested soon after.

Willy Tineo

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There’s a very strange element to sneaker violence, and it’s the wolf pack mentality. In many of these cases a group of robbers will shoot, stab, beat, and even kill for one pair of shoes. It’s horrible even if there was enough of a bounty to be had, but what are these kids going to do with one pair? How can that be worth ending someone’s life over?

Willy Tineo, 15, was walking with two friends in Philadelphia on Sept 12, 2010, when four other teens approached them. Tineo’s friends ran, but Tineo attempted to reason with the hoodlums (Rodrigo Arana, 19, Mario Ceballos, 19, Julio Romero, 19 and Alfredo Uribe, 16).

It was in vain, because the four allegedly started beating on Tineo. Police say it was then that Arana pulled a gun and shot and killed Tineo. At this point the four stole Tineo’s sneakers and ran away.

All four suspects were arrested and held without bail at Berks County Prison, they are currently awaiting trial.

Leonard Hollis

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Sometimes, people are murdered over sneakers and the circumstances are even more off-putting than usual. For instance, the case of Leonard Hollis, 15, who was guilty of nothing more than lending his Jordans to a friend.

It was late July, 2009 in East St. Louis. Hollis had lent his prized sneakers to a friend who didn’t want to give them back. One night they got into an argument over the sneakers, but nothing happened.

The next night Hollis’ friend returned with the sneakers. “When he asked for them back, the friend wouldn’t give them back,” said Tina Tolliver, Hollis’ mother. “When he brought them back, my son told him he had to leave our house.”

Hollis then accompanied the friend and another acquaintance to a house a few doors down. Police are unclear about what happened next, but Hollis was found dead, shot in the back with the sneakers nowhere in sight. Investigators are still unsure who exactly committed the murder but once again a teenager is dead over plastic and rubber.

Steven Terrett

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Yet another sneaker related murder. This one took place in Chicago. The victim was 17-year-old Steven Terrett.

Terrett was found dying in a South Side alley after Eduain Foster, 19 and an unidentified accomplice shot him for his Jordan sneakers. Both assailants have been charged with armed robbery and first-degree murder, with Foster admitting to the murder in a taped confession.

Terrett’s last words were “They set me up.” How many more children will be set up this way before society gets a hold on this problem?

Huang Chen

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In this case, things get even more nefarious. Huang Chen, an 18 year old Chinese food deliveryman from Jamaica, Queens was brutally murdered in February 2004. The reason? So his assailants could buy Air Jordan sneakers.

Nayquan Miller and Charles Bryant, both 16, along with other suspects ordered $10 in food and waited for their prey. When Huang Chen showed up they robbed him of $49, beat him with a baseball bat and stabbed him until he died. Chen pleaded for his life, to no avail.

Miller and Bryant then used Chen’s own car to dispose of the body in a nearby pond. Both Miller and Bryant were arrested hours later and charged with second-degree murder.

City Councilman John Liu had this to say: “I think certainly there is some profiling going on here by these animals who see these immigrant workers as easy targets.”

Calvin Jones

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Sometimes the sneakers aren’t the motive for violence, sometimes they become the weapon. In the most disgusting case we came across, Calvin Jones murdered a two-year-old with a basketball sneaker while babysitting.

The murder took place in Tennessee in May, 2010. Jones was babysitting the two-year-old for her mother, Anisha Alford when the toddler complained that she’d had an accident. Most people would clean her up and move on, but not Jones.

Jones told police he used the back of his hand as well as the basketball shoe to hit the child several times. Neither Jones nor Alford decided to get the toddler medical attention, and she was found dead almost two days later.

Jones has been charged with first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated child abuse. Anford was charged with only one count of aggravated child abuse.


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