Shoes on utility lines can have several meanings

Monday, January 26, 2009
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com
Shoes hang from utility lines near the intersection of Bloomfield and Park in Cape Girardeau.

Some say it is a way of marking gang territory or advertising the availability of drugs.

Others believe it is a commemoration of some rite of passage or milestone.

Still others think it is simply a form of artistic expression.

They call it shoefiti — the practice of tying the laces of shoes together and flinging them over utility lines. Cape Girardeau Police Department Cpl. Ike Hammonds said the department receives occasional reports of shoefiti, but has not seen an increase in the past year.

"It's not as much an en vogue thing to do as it was in the '80s," Hammonds said. During the 1980s, the connection between hanging shoes, usually sneakers, and gang or drug activity was more established. Not so today, he said.

"Oftentimes it's a copycat thing," said Hammonds, who taught Gang Resistance Education and

Training courses in Cape Girardeau Public Schools for 14 years until the program lost its federal

funding.

Reports of hanging shoes usually turn out to be of little concern, Hammonds said.

"If I notice a pair, I ask myself, 'Is this a neighborhood where we've made drug cases?'"

Two pairs of sneakers hang from overhead wires near the intersection of Bloomfield and Park streets, but Hammond said there have been few reports of trouble in those blocks. If the shoes were found two blocks to the east, where drug activity is prevalent, police might be concerned about a connection, he said.

"What's interesting about juvenile and drug activity is how territorial it can be," Hammonds said.

While AmerenUE crews rarely see sneakers across power lines, shoefiti is hardly viewed as a harmless prank, according to company spokesman Mike Cleary. He said the practice leads to concerns related to possible power outages and safety.

Because shoelaces frequently are wet or have a metallic strand, hanging shoes could conduct electricity and cause a power outage, Cleary said.

Another danger is people trying to remove the shoes from the overhead lines themselves. The issues of moisture and metallic laces mean people can be electrocuted even if they don't come in contact with the line itself, he said.

"It's just common sense to stay away from power lines," Cleary said, adding that if residents see shoes hanging over power lines they should report the situation to their utility

provider.

According to Snopes.com, a website devoted to debunking myths, legends and rumors, there is no consensus as to the significance of shoe flinging.

While the drug and gang theories are common, other less sinister explanations abound. These include boys signaling their first sexual encounters, graduation or other coming-of-age events. Then again, some may fling shoes across utility lines because they've seen it done elsewhere and thought it would be fun.

Explanations for shoefiti seem to be almost unlimited, and so is the scope of the phenomenon. A web search on the subject indicated photographic documentation of shoe flinging on five different continents.

Despite the potential problems shoefiti can cause, Hammonds said he doesn't see any laws currently on the books that would allow prosecution of those caught flinging shoes over utility lines.

"Unless the owners [of the lines] want to press charges for property damage, there's not much we can do."

To report shoefiti, call AmerenUE at 800-552-7583. If in Jackson, call the Jackson Public Works Department, 243-2300.

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