Philadelphia's City Council passed legislation to ban ski masks in some public places to increase public safety amid violent crime. Opponents say it would unfairly target people without proof of any wrongdoing. The bill passed last week on a 3-2 vote, and goes to Mayor Jim Kenney, reports the Associated Press. It would ban ski masks, or balaclavas, in public spaces like schools, recreation centers, parks, city-owned buildings and on public transportation. It defines a ski mask as a close-fitting covering over the whole head, with holes only for the eyes, nose, or mouth. Violations could result in a $250 fine. The law would except religious garb and protests.
The legislation comes as the sixth-largest U.S. city has been beleaguered by violent crime, tallying a record number of homicides in 2021, most of them gun-related. That number fell from 562 to 516 in 2022 but was still higher than pre-pandemic levels. Philadelphia would move in the opposite direction from New York City, which relaxed a law that prohibited masks, during the COVID-19 pandemic. New York repeaed a more than century-old law that prohibited face coverings in public. It was meant to permit mask-wearing during the coronavirus outbreak. Supporters of the repeal said the former law exposed men of color to police harassment and was used against protesters during demonstrations. Philadelphia’s ban cites an increase in people casually wearing ski masks in 2020 — at the beginning of the pandemic — alongside a rise in individuals sought by police. The ski masks conceal people’s identities, making it harder to identify them. The bill drew opposition from some progressive council members and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which said there was no evidence that ski masks encourage crime. Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker won election with a tough-on-crime approach, vowing to put hundreds of officers on the street.