The act of wearing a hoodie in public could soon be illegal in Oklahoma under a bill proposed by Don Barrington, a Republican state senator.
The bill, an amendment to existing law, would make it illegal for people to “intentionally conceal” their identities “in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise,” reports Oklahoma City NBC affiliate KFOR-TV.
Violators of the existing law (and the proposed amendment) face misdemeanor charges. If found guilty, they face fines of up to $500 and up to a year in prison.
The problem is that the immediately preceding paragraph in the existing law, titled 21 OS 1301, makes it illegal for anyone “to wear a mask, hood or covering, which conceals the identity of the wearer during the commission of a crime” or for “coercion, intimidation or harassment.”
Civil rights advocates worry that the two clauses read together could give police the authority to arrest someone for wearing a simple hooded sweatshirt.
“If somebody is out running, especially in this kind of weather, where it’s cold, drizzly, you might be inclined to wear your hoodie at Lake Hefner,” local attorney James Siderias told KFOR.
(Lake Hefner is a huge reservoir and major recreational destination in Oklahoma City.)
“I think this is a violation of an individual’s right to choose what they want to wear as long as it doesn’t violate the realm of public decency and moral values, and I think this could be very problematic,” the attorney added.
“I think they just overreached a little bit.”
Eduar Carreon, KFOR’s veritable hoodie wearer on the street, agrees.
“I’ve been wearing hoodies since I was a little kid,” Carreon reminisced.
Barrington, the legislator who proposed the amendment, disagrees.
“The intent of Senate Bill 13 is to make businesses and public places safer by ensuring that people cannot conceal their identities for the purpose of crime or harassment,” he told the NBC station.
“Similar language has been in Oklahoma statutes for decades and numerous other states have similar laws in place,” Sen. Barrington proclaimed. “Oklahoma businesses want state leaders to be responsive to their safety concerns, and this is one way we can provide protection.”
The existing law includes a large number of exceptions for hood- and mask-wearers including “exhibitions of minstrel troupes,” attendees of “masquerade parties” and participants in “the pranks of children on Halloween.”
Barrington’s amendment would add new exceptions including immunity for religious adherents “wearing coverings required by” their beliefs and for people dealing with bad weather.
The genesis for the original anti-mask law, passed about a century ago, was to foil the Ku Klux Klan, notes KFOR.