A general view of Philadelphia City Hall beside the Convention Center June 17, 2023. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
A bill to ban ski masks in certain public places of Philadelphia is meant to make the city safer, although critics say it is unlikely to reduce crime in a meaningful way.
On Thursday, Philadelphia City Council voted 13-2 to approve the legislation, which will allow the city to fine people $250 for wearing a ski mask in public properties owned by the city of Philadelphia including school buildings, recreation facilities, daycares, parks, and on public transportation.
City Councilmember Anthony Phillips, a Democrat representing the 9th Council District, said he was inspired to craft the legislation because constituents expressed concern about crimes committed by people wearing ski masks, creating the feeling of being “under siege” in the city.
“They’re often violent homicides and so forth. And so, now we’re at a point where the residents are fed up, and they want their leaders to do something about it,” Phillips told the Capital-Star.
Recent incidents involving people wearing ski masks include a July shooting in the city’s Kingsessing neighborhood, where police say Kimbrady Carricker shot and killed four people while wearing a ski mask and body armor– and had shot another person a day earlier. And in May, police said a person wearing a ski mask shot and killed a 15-year-old boy on a SEPTA bus in the city’s Germantown neighborhood.
Earlier this year, SEPTA enforced a similar ban on ski masks on its properties.
Phillips added that there are exceptions to the law, including holidays, holiday costumes, religious garments, for work, theatrical performances, winter sports, and those “lawfully engaged in First Amendment activities,” which would potentially include protests.
According to the bill, the fine is $2,000 if someone commits a crime wearing a ski mask and up to $250 for violating the rule without committing any other crime.
Philadelphia City Councilmember at-large Kendra Brooks, a member of the Working Families Party, voted against the bill. She said even though it is intended to make Philadelphians feel safer, the legislation would have the opposite effect.
“It will further criminalize Black and brown youth in our city and will not meaningfully reduce violence or crime,” Brooks wrote in a press release. “If we demand that officers start policing people’s clothing and accessories, we will be causing more harm than good.”
Brooks added that a young person who cannot afford to pay the $250 fine “will end up even more entangled in a system that claims far too many of our youth.”
Phillips said he believes if the bill becomes law, it will be a tool for the Philadelphia Police Department to help improve its clearance rate for solving crime in Philadelphia. The police department has expressed support for the bill.
But an attorney with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) questioned the legality of the bill.
“Public safety is very important and an understandable concern for the public. But there is no evidence to suggest that ski masks cause or encourage violent crime,” said Solomon Furious Worlds, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Giving police the authority to stop civilians without suspicion of unlawful activity is unconstitutional.”
He added that if city council wants to address the causes of crime, “a better strategy would be to put more dollars (and time) towards programs like mental health resources and housing assistance.”
Phillips said he had no concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation. “We felt secure about the legality of our ban because we worked with the administration and law department to ensure that the ban did not infringe on any particular peoples rights,” he told the Capital-Star. He described it as a “thoughtful piece of legislation.”
Phillips said that he looked at other areas that have passed similar bans, including New York City, Washington D.C. Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia.
While he pointed to those specific cities and states as models for his bill, he stressed that Philadelphia’s is not identical to the others’ and is not a blanket ban. The goal, Phillips said, is to create a “psychological deterrent” so people don’t wear ski masks in the city.
“We’re not trying to criminalize people for wearing ski masks,” Phillips told the Capital-Star. “What we’re trying to do is to help people understand that ski mask culture in the city of Philadelphia is often associated, unfortunately, with criminal behavior.”
Phillips told the Capital-Star he would launch a public education campaign across the city to educate young people about the legislation, encouraging them to not wear ski masks, adding that they have “so much beauty, so much potential,” and ski masks are hiding it. He added that he worked closely with outgoing Mayor Jim Kenney to craft the legislation, and he was confident the mayor would sign the bill before leaving office next month.
If Kenney doesn’t sign the bill by the end of his term, Phillips said he expects Mayor-Elect Cherelle Parker to support and sign the bill into law. Parker will be sworn-in as the city’s 100th mayor on January 2. She did not immediately reply to a request for comment from the Capital-Star on Friday.
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