North Carolina Considers Bringing Back Mask Ban With Exception For KKK

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A North Carolina Senate committee has advanced a bill that could make it illegal again to wear a mask in public with exceptions including for the Ku Klux Klan, the Atlanta Black Star reports.

State Sen. Buck Newton (R), who introduced the bill earlier this month, said the purpose of the measure is to prevent people from hiding their identities during crimes, including violent protests. However, the bill could also make it illegal to wear a mask for health and safety reasons. The measure also includes provisions that would increase penalties for people who wear masks and could lead to felony charges for individuals who block streets or highways more than once.

Newton addressed criticism over the bill potentially making it illegal for people to wear masks for health reasons.

“I think there are people out there trying to prey upon their fear about that. This was not a problem pre-COVID. We didn’t see granny getting arrested in the Walmart,” Newton said in a statement. “I trust people’s good commonsense. I trust law enforcement’s good commonsense.”

State Sen. Sydney Batch (D) argued that the bill goes too far. As a cancer survivor, she noted that she wore a mask for “much longer than I thought I needed to” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But, there are people that are walking around every single day that are immunocompromised every single day for the rest of their lives. It is meaningful to them. They could die,” Batch said.

North Carolina's initial ban on masks came in response to the KKK. However, there's still an exception in the measure that would allow members to wear masks or hoods during public events like a parade with permission from a municipality.

“So, this bill will protect the Ku Klux Klan to wear a mask in public, but someone who’s immunocompromised like myself can’t,” Batch said.

Other exceptions to the mask ban would include "Halloween costumes, masquerade balls, people who work in trades or occupations where a mask is needed for physical safety, and gas masks for civil defense drills, exercises or emergencies," CBS 17 reports.

Kerwin Pittman, a social justice advocate in Raleigh, said he also has concerns about how the bill will disproportionately affect people of color.

“With this bill passed, law enforcement will begin to stop Black and brown people in their communities who may be wearing masks for health concerns or safety concerns,” Pittman said.

In a statement, Newton said the bill doesn't specify any criminal penalty for strictly wearing a mask. However, Natasha Marcus (D) noted that law enforcement could still go after those wearing a mask since it would be illegal. Marcus called for the wording of the bill to be clearer.

The bill is now moving toward a vote in the full Senate.

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