Philly City Council approves ski mask ban despite pleas from advocates

The goal of the ban is to cut down on violent crime committed by those wearing masks to conceal their identities.

Philadelphia City Council Chamber as seen from the back of the room.

File photo: Philadelphia City Council Chamber. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Philadelphia City Council has approved a ban on ski masks, but not without some urgent opposition from youth and criminal defense attorneys before the vote.

The bill specifically calls for a fine of up to $2,000 for wearing a “mask, hood, ski mask, balaclava, or other device or means of hiding, concealing,or covering any portion of the face” with the specific intent to “intimidate or threaten another person,” or to conceal “their identity on public property or private property.”

The bill offers exceptions for cold weather or religious activities.

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“Oftentimes these ski masks are used to conceal criminal conduct,” said Councilmember Anthony Phillips. “We must do our duty and place the highest premium on restoring the public trust by having safer communities. This is what our neighbors have sent us to do.”

Tara Schiraldi of the Defender Association called the ban on face coverings like ski masks nothing more than another way to go after young Black and brown people.

“The criminalization of fashion popular with Black and brown youth puts Philadelphia in terrible company,” she said.

During the public testimony portion of the meeting, Jetson Cruz told council members the bill would do nothing to make the city safer.

“Banning a ski mask, how does it help me? It hurts me,” Cruz said. “I’ve got to be worried about being stopped and harassed by the police for something I choose to wear. I’ve already got tattoos, and I’m already a person of color. It scares me.”

There was also plenty of debate on the bill among members of council.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks was one of two to vote against the measure. She said it will do nothing but adversely hurt the youth of the city.

“My fear is that we’re putting legislation on the books for a certain population that don’t even realize that this is going to victimize them until it tarnishes the racial relationships between the police officers and young people,” she said.

The bill passed by a 13-2 margin with Councilmember Jamie Gauthier also opposing the legislation. It now goes to the desk of Mayor Jim Kenney. He has not spoken about whether he’ll sign the measure.

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