Atlanta’s proposed ski mask ban loses support after opposition from residents

The issue of banning wearing ski masks in public has raised the specter of racial stereotyping and racial profiling. The divide between opponents and advocates of the ban was deep and unbridgeable. Wearing a ski mask in public will continue to be legal in Atlanta. A plan to ban wearing ski masks in public has been characterized as “controversial” by some news media. The plan to ban the masks “failed to move forward in an Atlanta City Council committee on Monday.” As reported, the ordinance proposed by District 12 City Councilman Antonio Lewis sought to prohibit wearing ski masks and hoods in public places.

As reported, the decision not to advance the proposed ban “came after Atlanta city leaders received major pushback on the proposed ordinance from community members who argued it could lead to an increase in racial profiling of the city’s Black youth.” How wearing masks reduced racial profiling was not clarified.

The rhetoric for and against the ban was heated. One resident is quoted as exclaiming to the City Council: “The fact that any one of you took this proposal seriously is pathetic.” The opposition to the proposed ban was characterized as “loud” on Monday afternoon during the council’s public safety committee meeting.

Some of the arguments against the ban may be viewed as inconsistent. One Atlanta resident opposing the ban alleged: “I want to see systemic solutions that keep Atlanta residents safe, and this mask ordinance is not it.” The resident sought to advance its opposition by further stating: “If they’re committed to doing a crime, a mask ordinance is not going to stop them from doing that crime.” That the ban may help authorities catch the person committing the crime was not addressed.

A resident focused on safety outcomes when expressing support for the ban, saying: “I think it’s absolutely absurd that there’s objection to this bill. I want to walk around in public and feel safe.” Lewis expressed a generalized intent of the ordinance was to “help police more easily identify perpetrators of crimes who so often hide behind face coverings.”

A resident shared a personal anecdote to advance the ban to wear the masks. “I have a nephew whose mother was approached while she was in the store and was told ‘I’m gonna kill your son’ … and he had on a mask.”

Background information regarding laws that similar to a ban of such headgear include that “Georgia already has a state code that makes it a misdemeanor offense to wear a mask with the intent of concealing a person’s identity.” As reported, similar legislation recently passed in Philadelphia.

Several residents saw the ban as “playing into stereotypes that would give way to law enforcement groups racially profiling the city’s young Black boys.” One woman was quoted as telling council members: “I see this as a new way into ‘stop and frisk.’ It’s a new way to be stopped.” She did not explain how wearing a mask reduced the probability of being stopped.

Lewis said “despite the criticism, people in his district were in favor of the proposal.” Lewis plans to re-introduce similar legislation at the next council meeting with “some changes to the language – likely focusing on just ski masks.”

D & B Staff

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