Shoes On Power Lines – What Does It Mean? - COMUNITYmade
Shoes On Power Lines – What Does It Mean?

Shoes On Power Lines – What Does It Mean?

by Shannon Scott August 16, 2021

Growing up in the city, I came across shoes hanging on power lines very often. Like many people, I always wondered where they came from. I don’t see too many shoes hanging on power lines today, but I have never stopped being curious about them. I can bet that most people in major cities also have the same questions that I do.

The city of Chicago keeps track of the pairs of shoes that people hang over the telephone or electric wires.  It’s a big deal; so much so that some residents even request city workers to remove shoes hanging from the power lines. The shoes range from gym shoes to cowboy boots and everything in between.

Why do people hang shoes on power lines?

Shoes hanging on power lines is a common occurrence in major cities, but knowing the exact reason behind it has proved a little bit difficult. While trying to understand this mystery, I went through several Reddit threads, read several articles, and even watched documentaries about shoe tossing.  There are so many theories surrounding shoes hanging on power lines. A few interviews with sociologists, community leaders, and suspected gang members helped test some fundamental theories. 

Some of the theories you are likely to come across are;

– The shoes signify locations where one can buy drugs
– Crews use shoes to mark their block
– The shoes memorialize victims of gun violence
– Kids, being silly, toss shoes on power lines when a victim loses a bet or when the perpetrators are taunting their victims.
– Celebrating life’s milestones

    Let’s discuss the above theories in detail.

    Theories on shoes on power lines

    Location for buying drugs

      This one of the most common theories when it comes to shoes hanging on power lines. The theory is that dangling shoes signal the presence of a prime drug dealing spot or a crack house. Chicago police normally decline to comment on the matter, but you can get the information from other members of society. 

      In 2003, East Los Angeles had an extensive shoe removal process. The city had been hard-hit by vandalism – the throwing of tennis shoes tied together over phone cables and electric wires. Residents feared that the shoes pointed to sites where the youth could buy drugs, or worse yet, gang turfs. The then-mayor, James Hahn, addressed the residents, noting that they would no longer tolerate shoes hanging from power lines. 

      But not everyone thinks that shoe hanging is associated with drugs. Some believe that the shoes are hung in memory of someone that passed on. 

      One social worker I interacted with claimed that the belief of shoes indicating drugs is an urban myth.  Further, he explained that as a kid, he tossed shoes over power lines on several occasions, which explains why he was very skeptical about the drug theory. He also pointed out that no drug dealer in their right mind would advertise that they were selling drugs in that manner as it would set them up to be arrested.

      Lost bet

        Another theory is that one’s shoes get tossed over a power line when he or she loses a bet. A friend of mine told me he was a victim. When he lost, his buddies took his shoes and threw them at the power line. This theory resonates with many since I have come across several articles of people claiming their friends threw their shoes after losing a bet.

        Another explanation is that kids throw their friends’ shoes over power lines to taunt them. Sometimes the shoes mistakenly get caught on the power lines. This explanation makes a lot of sense since we all know how silly kids can be. They would do anything that they find captivating at the moment.

        You may have guessed that some of the shoes are merely  and the owners discard them by throwing them over power lines. 

        Crew or gang territory

          This theory touches on gang activity and violence. Several inmates in state prisons have alleged that they would toss shoes up power lines back in the day to inform other crews or gangs that a particular crew ran that block. In Kansas City, crews used the shoes to mark their territories in the 1990s. The shoes were a message and warning to others.

          The memory of victims of gun violence

            This theory is also quite common. There are speculations that the shoes represented the people who died as a result of gun violence. It was immaterial whether the person was a gang member or just someone who lived in the neighborhood. The hanging shoes are more or less in effigy to loved ones.

            Celebrating life’s milestones

              It is unclear where the tradition came from, but some people toss shoes over power lines in celebration of an achievement, e.g., graduations. Members of the military also throw shoes over power lines when they complete their training. They paint their military boots with festive colors before tossing them.

              Others say that young boys throw shoes over power lines to symbolize the loss of their virginity.

              Mystery of the past

              It is clear that shoes hanging on power lines has become a thing of the past. I hardly see any these days. A Chicago spokesman recently revealed that the number of requests to remove shoes hanging from power lines has significantly reduced. Technicians who maintain power lines in Chicago alleys have also reported that fewer shoes hang on power lines on the city's North Side than on the Southside. It’s a similar situation on the east coast. 

              You may also have noticed fewer shoes hanging on power lines in your neighborhood. This is an indication that it has become a thing of the past.


              A lot of people try to justify the various theories behind shoes on powerlines. However, I like to believe that it is a coming-of-age story of youth. Every region has its quirks, and there may or may not be a mix-up of violence, gangs, or drugs.  

              The instance of shoes hanging on power lines remains a mystery to date, but it is definitely a disappearing mystery. The chances are that we will no longer spot shoes hanging on power lines in a few years.

              Shannon Scott
              Shannon Scott


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