Hoodies are particularly useful this time of year. It’s chilly and you might not have a hat, making the ear-covering potential of a sweatshirt hood very appealing. They’re good for jogs or under jackets or as slouchy loungewear.
But they’re also pieces of clothing that are incredibly contentious, long symbolic of youth and race. The hoodie became a political flashpoint after black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot while wearing one on his way home from the store. (After Martin’s death, protestors often wore hoodies in support of Martin.)
Now, the hoodie is again becoming at the center of a conversation, after an Oklahoma City lawmaker named Don Barrington introduced a new bill that would make wearing a hoodie—hood up—a punishable offense if you use it to “intentionally conceal” your identity. (The law would make exceptions for things like pranks, parades, and religious beliefs.)
The news, reported by local Oklahoma City news stations, caused a furor in the media. “This is a violation of an individual’s right to choose what they want to wear as long as it doesn’t violate the realm of public decency and moral values,” attorney James Siderias told KFOR-TV.
But here’s the thing: As Vocativ reports, there was already a law in Oklahoma, established in 1923, nothing that wearing a mask or hood while committing a crime is illegal. The law was put in place as a way to combat crimes from the Ku Klux Klan. The difference in Barrington’s bill, an amendment to the law, is the word “intentionally” in front of conceal.
So the law is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean that it’s at all OK.
As Sarah Kaufman at Vocativ said, “While it is ironic that the provision stemmed from a response to the rising threat of the KKK, the concern now is that this new take on it could allow authorities to legitimize violence or prosecutorial bias in a racist manner.”
In an odd way, Barrington was doing us all a favor by calling attention to this law. It’s not just a problem that he proposed the amendment. It’s a problem that this law already exists, and now has the potential to lead to racial injustice.