There’s no eloquent way to introduce a story about a group of elected officials who want to ban wearing hoods in public—so let’s just jump in.

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a bill that could make it a fineable offense to wear any kind of identity-concealing garment in a public place. Don’t believe me? I didn’t when I first heard it, but here’s the text of the bill (in part):

It shall be unlawful for any person in this state to: A. 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; or B. To intentionally conceal his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.

These two points are followed by a long list of times when wearing a hood or mask will be allowed, including on Halloween, during parades or demonstrations, or during periods of inclement weather.

Basically what this does is (in part) create an included offense to the larger offense of actually committing crime; a similar provision has been on the books since the heydays of the KKK. The larger problem is part (B), which would prevent people from “concealing their identity” in public. It doesn’t explicitly ban hooded sweatshirts, but the law of unintended consequences is lurking just around the corner in Chuck Taylors and a Dave Matthews Band summer tour hoodie, just waiting for an opportunity to pop out and menace the perpetually comfortable.

As always, lawmakers have good intentions.

From the ABA Journal:

“The intent of [the bill] is to make businesses and public places safer by ensuring that people cannot conceal their identifies for the purpose of crime or harassment,” Barrington told the station.

Barrington’s bill would amend an existing law, enacted in the 1920s, that bans the wearing of hoods while committing crimes, and members of the Ku Klux Klan were the law’s targets. The amended law would extend the ban to include the wearing of any hoods or facial disguises in public.

The optics surrounding this bill don’t exactly speak to public safety concerns so much as they speak to the need to create a crisis. From the bill:

It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.

I don’t know about you, but I have days where I don a hoodie before heading out to run errands. It’s nothing personal, and it’s not some sort of veiled threat; I just feel the need to be swaddled while I buy my frozen chicken breasts and bags of oranges. I’m not embracing “gangster culture”—but you can bet that if this type of law passes in Oklahoma, you’re going to see a whole stack of case files initiated by concerned citizens who saw a 17 year old boy in a sweatshirt and just didn’t know what to think. Lawmakers claim that the purpose of the bill is not to ban hoodies, and I believe them; but they’re walking a thin line here between protecting the public and placing what amounts to a ban on certain types of free expression.

In the vast scheme of things, this bill isn’t terribly important. If it passes, attorneys will stampede to the courthouse with piles and piles of lawsuits, and a judge will most likely laugh heartily before giving lawmakers the choice to either amend it, or wipe it off the books.

You can read the full bill here.


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