James Anthony Smith, a 17-year-old high school student from the District of Columbia, is the latest victim of the toxic side of sneaker culture. He was fatally shot by a gunman on Monday who took the pair of brand new $220 red Nike Air Jordans he received as an early Christmas gift from his mother, The Washington Post reported.
“He was an all-American kid. He loved his red shoes. He loved basketball. He loved his computer games. . . . I can’t believe he was killed, all over a pair of shoes,” James’ mother, Benita Smith, said.
The teen is now part of the statistic: approximately 1,200 people die every year in violence related to someone taking a pair of high-end athletic footwear. The shooting occurred on an outdoor basketball court. Investigators said James ran one block after being shot and was found shoeless on a street, dying less than two hours later at a hospital. So far, there are no arrests in the ongoing investigation.
The other side of sneaker culture is quite different. Some sneakerheads, as the extreme enthusiasts are called, have spent thousands to collect the footwear. Designer Jeff Staple said some of the most collectible editions are like artwork, CBS News reported. “When you think about the artistic design process, a lot of these shoe designers are ex-car designers or architects or industrial designers,” he said. Indeed, the Brooklyn Museum held an exhibit in 2015 to examine the aesthetics of sneakers and the rise of sneaker culture.
What’s art for one person, however, is a status symbol for others that they must have by any means. Howard White, the senior vice president of Jordan Brand, said he’s “saddened” by the violence surrounding the popular Air Jordans, he told Esquire. To White, the bright side of the sneaker craze in poor urban communities is when a young person is motivated to get their first job to purchase a pair of expensive Jordans.