Oklahoma residents are concerned that a proposed bill would make it a crime to wear a hooded sweatshirt, or hoodie, in public on many occasions, according to local news station KFOR.
The wearing of hoods or similar head coverings during the commission of a crime has been against state law since the 1920s, with the original intent of curbing violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan. But the new proposal would also ban an individual from intentionally concealing "his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise" even if he or she were not involved in a crime. Violation of the proposed law would constitute a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.
The bill's language includes exemptions for religious garments, weather protection, safety or medical purposes, parades, Halloween celebrations, masquerade parties, "minstrel troupes," circuses, sporting groups, mascots or "other amusements or dramatic shows." But several residents who spoke to KFOR expressed concern that the language was still overly broad and could be easily misconstrued to ban hooded sweatshirts on any occasion.
“I think this is a violation of an individual’s right to chose 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,” Oklahoma City attorney James Siderias said.
“They might have personal issues for keeping them on; they might have a bad hair day or maybe they have cancer or they’re losing their hair. You just don’t know why,” Tracy Wehagen said.
The bill's author, state Sen. Don Barrington (R), said that the goal is simply to help deter crime.
“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. ... Similar language has been in Oklahoma statutes for decades and numerous other states have similar laws in place," he said. "Oklahoma businesses want state leaders to be responsive to their safety concerns, and this is one way we can provide protection.”
The fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida set off protests around the country in 2012, and protesters, including the NBA's LeBron James and even members of Congress, donned hoodies in reference to the clothing Martin was wearing at the time of his death. A hoodie also graced the cover of Time magazine.