A city councilman in Atlanta, Georgia, has proposed a ban on ski masks and hoodies in an effort to reduce crime in the city, but since people have been trying to criminalize the hoodie since the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin, the proposal is naturally raising eyebrows among activists and others in the Black community.
Now, to be fair, the proposal by Councilman Antonio Lewis doesn’t appear to be aimed at people who wear hoodies in general. According to WSB-TV, Lewis said during a meeting at Atlanta City Hall that the ban would be for “people who have their hoodies on that cover up everything but their eyes,” or, more specifically, people who “have a hoodie on and a mask.”
Still, community members like civil rights activist Devin Barrington-Ward oppose the proposal under the belief that it’s just more profiling (racial or otherwise) waiting to happen.
“This is not going to reduce crime in Atlanta,” Barrington-Ward said. “It’s going to put young people more at risk for danger, including unlawful incarceration and potentially deadly encounters with police.”
It’s worth mentioning, of course, that COVID-19 is still a thing, and, believe it or not, there are still plenty of people who choose to cover their faces in public spaces to protect themselves from infection. In fact, Georgia already has laws prohibiting masks worn on public or private property without written consent, but Lewis noted that those laws were relaxed due to the pandemic. As for Barrington-Ward’s concerns regarding the proposed ban, Lewis—who claims he’s gotten many complaints from citizens about people committing crimes while wearing ski masks—denies the ban will target young people.
“We ain’t trying to stop no young people,” Lewis said. “As a matter of fact, if you need a regular mask, hit me up. I’ll give you a mask to replace your ski mask with.”
A similar controversy arose in Philadelphia last Thursday when the Philadelphia City Council passed legislation aimed at reducing crime in the city by banning ski masks. It was also a response to a surge in crime in the city that occurred post-pandemic.
“Giving police the authority to stop civilians without suspicion of unlawful activity is unconstitutional,” Solomon Furious Worlds, an attorney for the ACLU, said in a statement. Opponents of the legislation, which now goes to the desk of Democratic Mayor Jim Kenny, also argued there was no evidence to support the idea that ski masks encourage people to commit crimes. (Not to mention the fact that the advancement of the bill against ski masks comes during the start of the winter…in Philly.)
At the end of the day, a ban on hoodies or any other attire that is largely associated with Black people will inevitably prompt concerns of racial profiling regardless of whether that’s the intent of the ban or not. America simply has too deep a history of anti-Black suspicion and over-policing. And while that discriminatory behavior tends to transcend what a Black person is wearing, there’s no denying that dressing a certain way can widen the target that is already on young Black people’s backs.
It’s probably due to those concerns that Lewis said he plans to amend the hoodie aspect and other fine portions of the proposal by the time of the public safety committee hearing, which takes place next Monday.
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