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Ban on Hoods Falls Apart at the Seams

The story reads like a headline straight out of The Onion: Oklahoma Senate Mulls Very Important Hoodie Ban. Sadly, though, it’s not a joke.

Don Barrington, a Republican state senator from Oklahoma, is seeking to make it illegal for people to “intentionally conceal” themselves by wearing "a robe, mask or other disguise” in a public place. Couple that with the existing law disallowing the wearing of a hood or mask while committing a crime, or for the purpose of “coercion, intimidation or harassment,” and what could end up happening is that anyone wearing a hooded sweatshirt might face fines of up to $500 or spend a year in prison.

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After the legislation was introduced, Sen. Barrington denied he was trying to ban hoodies, saying in a statement that the intention is for "a mask, hood or covering" used as “masks or disguises in the commission of a crime.” However, there is zero difference between a hoodie and a hooded sweatshirt (see: Hanes)—except perhaps you could argue the former term is a used in a more pejorative way than the latter.

The original Oklahoma law banning hoods came to pass in the 1920s, at which time crimes committed by members of the Klu-Klux-Klan were commonplace. And while there’s generally no question what someone’s up to when out and about in a pointed white hood, a hooded sweatshirt is an entirely different story.

“If somebody is out running, especially in this kind of weather, where it`s cold, drizzly, you might be inclined to wear your hoodie at Lake Hefner [a recreational destination in Oklahoma City],” attorney James Siderias said to Oklahoma City’s NBC affiliate. “I think 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, and I think this could be very problematic.”

What kind of message does it send to kids that what they wear can get them arrested?

Sen. Barrington seems to think that base is covered, though, saying people are allowed to wear hooded sweatshirts for weather protection, just not for “intentional concealment." However, who decides whether someone is trying to hide something in the rain as opposed to just trying to conceal themselves from raindrops? Isn’t it a matter of perception? Kind of like whether you’re wearing a hood for warmth, privacy or comfort, as opposed to, say, try and intimidate someone by your appearance. After all, saying you can be arrested for wearing a hooded sweatshirt for the purpose of “intimidation” seems pretty broad—perhaps the person feeling intimidated is projecting a feeling not actually intended by the person wearing the hood.

Hooded sweatshirts were around long before Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman as he walked home armed with a hoodie and a bag of Skittles, but the profile of young, unarmed black men being killed for the crime of their skin color and clothing has been raised up high ever since. While on the one hand there might be an inclination to applaud Sen. Barrington for taking steps to ensure these deaths don’t continue, perhaps a more logical way might have been to first go after the guns—who has access to them, how they get them, what kinds are available, and how well are they trained to use them.

It’s hard to imagine telling a child they’re not allowed to wear hooded sweatshirts, lest they be confused for a criminal. Would Sen. Barrington also consider introducing legislation outlawing suits and ties so no one confuses bankers and traders for white collar criminals such as Bernie Madoff? Or how about outlawing short shirts so as to lessen the temptation to rape scantily clad women?

It would seem to make more sense to start at the root of the issues, not the clothing.

What kind of message does it send to kids that what they wear can get them arrested—and we’re not talking about T-shirts with gang signs and baggy pants with boxers and butt cracks hanging out. It would be a misguided law, should it pass, at best. At worst, it reeks of racism. The crime shouldn’t be wearing a hooded sweatshirt, but the act of a person profiling another person for wearing one.

How do you tell a kid they can’t wear a sweatshirt for fear of arrest? How do you tell a kid that while guns are legal, a layer of clothing isn’t? And that wearing the latter might justify someone shooting you with the former, because the deadly one is perfectly fine and the other is against the law?

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In no scenario does this add up. What if, instead of outlawing hoodies, Sen. Barrington did some harder work, like walking into schools, gun ranges, town hall meetings, churches and other places of worship and talking at length about racial tolerance, community solutions to ending poverty, and figuring out how to lower delinquency rates in traditionally high-crime areas?

Maybe there exists a statistic saying more offenders wear hoodies than law-abiding citizens, but until then (and even then), it would seem to make more sense to start at the root of the issues, not the clothing that, more often than not, just works to keep people warm instead of on a Most Wanted list. There are few very instances in which it’s the clothes, and not the criminal, that make the crime.

Image via Twenty20, thegirljc

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