Hoodies Don’t Kill People

DocHoc in a hoodie

(DocHoc, pictured right, wears a sinister hoodie.)

A problematic and controversial bill that would ban people from wearing hoodies in public in Oklahoma is slated to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.

In its current form, Senate Bill 13, sponsored by state Sen. Don Barrington of Lawton, would make it illegal to “intentionally conceal his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.” The bill also would make it a crime to conceal one’s identity during the “commission of a crime,” but apparently that’s already illegal in the state. Violators of the new law would face a fine up to $500 and/or one year in a county jail.

The draconian fine maximum amount and possible jail time for just wearing a particular piece of clothing in public are just part of the problems with the bill. As various media outlets have observed, the bill seems primarily aimed at people wearing hoodies, a garment worn commonly by younger males in our culture, especially in the African American community. In essence, under one argument, the bill, then, could make it at least implicitly legal for law enforcement officers to profile people on an ethnic basis.

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was shot to death in Sanford, Fla. by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, in 2012. Martin was unarmed and wearing a hoodie when he was killed. At the time, the hoodie took on symbolic value as prominent people, such as NBA star LeBron James, wore hoodies as they brought public attention to the case. Zimmerman was later acquitted of any wrongdoing.

According to media reports, various government entities and businesses throughout the country have similar laws and restrictions, which target hoodies in particular.

The bill allows for a number of exceptions, including Halloween and masquerade costumes, but that just points out the difficulty in trying to implement such a broad restriction in what people can wear in public. For example, the bill also exempts “those participating in the parades or exhibitions of minstrel troupes, circuses, sporting groups, mascots or other amusements or dramatic shows.” What about people who dress outside of gender constraints? What about people who want to wear a hoodie to just stay warm?

The bill further stigmatizes the hoodie as something sinister when, in fact, it’s just a simple piece of clothing. Here are some hoodies with the Oklahoma City Thunder brand offered for sale on the internet. Will it be illegal to wear a Thunder hoodie in Bricktown before or after a game? How can police enforce the law in some situations but not in others? That’s probably unconstitutional.

Yet the biggest problem with the bill, as I mentioned, is its potential to lead to even more racial profiling of young black males and selective enforcement of laws.

The session hasn’t started, of course, and this bill could change in the coming weeks, but it seems like an overreach at this point. Obviously, criminals often disguise themselves as they commit crimes, and that’s wrong and should be illegal, but staying warm outside on a cold evening or just trying to be stylish with some Thunder gear shouldn’t be against the law.