Minstrels Exempt From Proposed Oklahoma Law Banning Hoodies and Masks

By Genevieve Belmaker, Epoch Times
February 2, 2015 4:34 pm Last Updated: February 2, 2015 4:34 pm

An Oklahoma lawmaker wants make wearing a hoodie in public places a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to $500 and one year in jail. Oklahoma State Senator Don Barrington introduced legislation last month that would make it illegal for anyone “to intentionally conceal his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise,” according to the bill.

The language of the bill also states that it would be illegal to wear a “mask, hood or covering, which conceals the identity of the wearer during the commission of a crime or for the purpose of coercion, intimidation or harassment.”

According to the ACLU of Oklahoma, it has been illegal for over 90 years to use a hood, mask, or disguise for criminal conduct. Brady Henderson, the legal director for the ACLU of Oklahoma, noted in a statement that the bill “does nothing whatsoever to strengthen that law or to prevent or punish crime.”

Henderson also said that it could ultimately land the state of Oklahoma in courts for violating First Amendment rights.

“This bill specifically targets only law-abiding individuals,” saidHenderson. The bill is now with the state senate’s Judiciary Committee. Neither that committee’s chair, Senator Anthony Sykes, nor the bill’s sponsor, Senator Barrington, could be reached for clarification of the bill’s intent or for comment.

The proposed law to ban people wearing hoods and masks would not apply to kids playing pranks on Halloween, people involved with masquerade parties, and those who are part of wandering minstrel troupes or in the circus. Other allowances for religious affiliations would also be allowed.

The proposed law to ban people wearing hoods and masks would not apply to kids playing pranks on Halloween, people involved with masquerade parties, and those who are part of wandering minstrel troupes or in the circus.

An online petition with over 2,100 signatures sponsored by an advocacy group called Million Hoodies for Justice describes the proposed legislation as problematic and downright racist. Specifically, the group says that black youth would be criminalized by the law.

The group also takes issue with what the bill doesn’t say. There is no exemption for anonymous participation in political protest. The ACLU agrees that the intent is too far afield from basic constitutional rights.

“This bill is an affront to fundamental rights, including the rights of of free speech and privacy,” said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director in a statement. “No one should worry about retaliation or retribution because they choose to attend a rally or a protest, which is precisely why the First Amendment protects anonymous speech in these instances.”