By Jim Goodson
The shoes hanging from the corner of Austin and Palestine streets in Jacksonville haven’t been there long. But shoe-flinging - the practice of throwing old tennis shoes over power lines - has been around a long time, police chief Reece Daniel says.
“I remember when I was a kid throwing shoes over power lines,” Daniel said this week.” “Whoever could get the shoes to stay up there in the fewest tosses won.”
Daniel discounts the prevailing notion that tennis shoes dangling from power lines mark the location of houses where drugs can be purchased. Or that they mark gang territories. Or that they mark the spot where gang members have been killed. Or that they signify locations where young people have lost their virginity.
“I suppose there are as many reasons as there are people who throw them over the power lines,” the chief said.
He also cautioned that people seeking to remove shoes from overhead power or phone lines should contact the appropriate utility company to perform the task.
“Shoes and overhead lines do not mix,” he said.
A recent episode on the Dallas SWAT television show informed viewers that police detectives use the shoes-on-power-lines as tips to find crack houses.
“You have to do a lot more investigating than that to make a solid drug case you can prosecute,” the chief said. “Maybe that’s what it means in Dallas, but I haven’t found it to be true.”
According to the Internet dictionary Wikipedia, “shoe-flinging” is the American and Canadian practice of throwing shoes whose shoelaces have been tied together so that they hang from overhead wires such as power lines or telephone cables.
Shoe flinging occurs throughout the United States, in rural as well as in urban areas. Usually, the shoes flung at the wires are sneakers; elsewhere, especially in rural areas, many different varieties of shoes, including leather shoes and boots, also are thrown.
A number of sinister explanations have been proposed as to why this is done. Some say that shoes hanging from the wires advertise a local crack house where crack cocaine is used and sold. Others claim that the shoes so thrown commemorate a gang-related murder, or the death of a gang member, or as a way of marking gang turf.
A newsletter from the mayor of Los Angeles, California cites fears of many Los Angeles residents that “these shoes indicate sites at which drugs are sold or worse yet, gang turf,” and that city and utility employees had launched a program to remove the shoes.
These explanations have the ring of urban legend to them, especially since the practice also occurs along relatively remote stretches of rural highways that are unlikely scenes for gang murders or crack houses.
Others claim that the shoes are stolen from other people and tossed over the wires as a sort of bullying, or as a practical joke played on drunkards. Others simply say that shoe flinging is a way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted, are uncomfortable, or don’t fit. It may also be another manifestation of the human instinct to leave their mark on, and decorate, their surroundings.
In some neighborhoods, shoes tied together and hanging from power lines or tree branches signify that someone has died. The shoes belong to the dead person. The reason they are hanging, legend has it, is that when the dead person's spirit returns, it will walk that high above the ground, that much closer to heaven.