From Beijing to Beverly Hills, there are millions of dangling shoes on power lines, telephone wires, trees and other places. But what do all of these suspended sneakers mean? Much to some people’s dismay, there’s no general consensus on the origin of hanging shoes, because there’s actually more than one answer as to what shoes on power lines means.
Drugs And Gang Territory
One of the most commonly believed reasons shoes are thrown over power lines is to signal the location of a crack house or prime drug dealing spot. Dangling shoes can also be the symbol of gang members claiming territory, especially when the shoes are hanging from power lines or telephone wires in an intersection. In fact, the city of Los Angeles underwent a massive shoe removal process in 2003 when residents expressed their concern that the shoes indicated “sites at which drugs are sold or worse yet, gang turf.” Mayor James Hahn addressed the community, stating that overhead shoes would no longer be tolerated.
Chicago has also experienced quite an issue with shoes clogging up power lines. In fact, the city receives thousands of calls each year from residents complaining about the hanging shoes. But interestingly enough, the number of suspended sneaker complaints has fallen in recent years by over 70 percent. According to city records, officials received requests to remove 1,000 pair of shoes from power lines in both 2008 and 2009, but the number has steadily fallen each year to just over 100 requests to remove dangling shoes in 2015. (Note: There's no concrete evidence to suggest the hanging shoes in Chicago were drug or gang related.)
Commemorating The Death Of A Loved One
It’s unclear where or why the tradition began, but sometimes the death of a young person in a community spurs friends, family and loved ones to throw shoes over power lines, tree branches and around other public places. Some gang members also practice this tradition, creating an informal memorial in the location where a close connection lost his or her life.
Celebrating Life Milestones Such As Graduation Or Completing Basic Military Training
Some graduating seniors mark their milestone moment by tossing sneakers over power lines. The act is said to be done as a way of leaving a part of themselves behind, similar to carving a name into a tree or wet cement. Meanwhile, some young boys throw their shoes over power lines to symbolize the loss of their virginity.
Another milestone moment celebrated with the shoe tossing tradition is when members of the military finish basic training. Some, but not all, paint their military boots in festive colors and then toss them on power lines to commemorate the special moment.
For Bullying Or Just Because
More often than not, when you see shoes flung over power lines, they’re there simply because somebody got bored and decided tossing some shoes on the line would be amusing. And sometimes, the shoes belong to drunks or defenseless kids whose tormentors and/or bullies decided it would be funny to taunt their victims and leave them shoeless.