Sen. Don Barrington’s, R-Lawton, proposed hoodie ban amendment is troubling not because it is likely to pass or be accepted but because it has emerged at a violent and tense period in American history. 

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Sen. Don Barrington’s, R-Lawton, proposed hoodie ban amendment is troubling not because it is likely to pass or be accepted but because it has emerged at a violent and tense period in American history.

The current statute makes it unlawful to “wear a mask, hood or covering which conceals the identity of the wearer during the commission of a crime” and comes with a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to a year. Barrington’s amendment would make it similarly unlawful to conceal one’s identity in a public place by means of a “robe, mask or other disguise.”

Barrington says his intent is to make businesses and public places safer. However, many believe his endeavor is a misguided use of legislative resources.

He correctly notes that many states make it illegal to conceal one’s identity while committing a crime. Years ago, such laws targeted the Ku Klux Klan.

Although Barrington’s bill does not mention hoodies, its overbroad language troubles civil rights activists because it invites “selective enforcement and over-policing of otherwise law-abiding people,” according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. While the bill’s wording requires an intent to conceal one’s identity — suggesting that it targets only criminal behavior — we have seen that nefarious intent can be all too easily inferred by overaggressive law enforcement officers.

The bill also would allow police to stop and question a person solely on the basis of his or her clothing, which is an insufficient premise for a stop and a curtailment of Fourth Amendment freedoms. State civil rights groups also are concerned the bill, if passed, could undermine First Amendment rights. Clothing is not apolitical, and opponents of Barrington’s amendment fear this is a measure to criminalize articles of clothing that are associated with marginalized cultures, further demonizing them.

The amendment contains an exemption for coverings required by religious beliefs, safety or medical purposes or incidental to protection from weather. But in order to find out if these are true, law enforcement would have to question a person about his or her motive for wearing concealing garments. Is it reasonable that an officer stop a hijabi and question her about her religious requirements regarding her head coverings? Who gets to decide whether or not someone’s hooded coat is appropriately “incidental to the weather”?

If passed, this amendment puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of law enforcement. And it comes at a time when our communities face police brutality and civil rights violations. In context with the racial tensions in cities across the globe, this amendment represents a threat to civil rights and an overextension of law enforcement authority.

For a state that wants to “downsize” government, Oklahoma legislators seem overeager to put the government into people’s closets.

Laizure is a 2014 graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Law and an attorney for Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR), Oklahoma.

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