Republican State Senator Don Barrington plans to introduce a bill that will make wearing a “mask, hood, or covering” a misdemeanor in Oklahoma while committing a crime. Critics focus on the “hood” because it reads like a ban on so-called “hoodies”, the hooded sweatshirts that many people wear, but which have in recent years become increasingly associated with black men. The critics complain that the law will only exacerbate racial profiling.
The problem I see with the law, however, is less about profiling and more about piling on crime and punishment upon the accused. Supporters point out that the law applies when committing a crime. So, if you enter a convenience store and buy a candy bar, no crime. If you enter a convenience store and steal a candy bar, crime; the law kicks in. If you were wearing a hoodie when caught, presumably you are charged with shoplifting and violating the “hoodie law” which complicates your legal troubles and adds to your potential punishment.
Isn’t that the problem? I mean, profiling will happen anyway. If while walking down a street you see on one side a group of young white boys walking toward you in hooded sweatshirts and on the other a group of black men wearing hooded sweatshirts, which looks less menacing? If your neighborhood has been plagued by a series of robberies, which side of the street do you choose? The law won’t change any of this.
In a twisted way, the logic of the proposed Oklahoma law exploits crime. It gives the state more opportunity for punishment, perhaps profit, too. (The proposed punishment is a fine.)
What happens if we apply this logic to another set of laws that I would expect critics of the hoodie law to fully support. Consider the laws against hate crimes. Don’t they follow the same logic?
You can hate gays, Muslims, and immigrants all you want in public and private. You can write about it, join hate groups, and even stand on the street corner and proclaim your hate. Isn’t that true? But if I follow the tenor of the hoodie law critics correctly, the criticism is more about cultural differences than criminal ones.
The difference with hate crime, of course, is the idea that the hate crime is motivated by hate, whereas its seems absurd to think that a hoodie motivates a “hoodie crime”. But think about these laws…Really, how absurd is it? The critics of the hoodie law imply that law “profiles”, that is it draws a connection between hooded sweatshirts and the propensity of the people who wear them to commit crimes, specifically black men.
One might turn that argument around. Supporters of the law might counter and say wear all the hoodies you want. What’s the problem if you don’t commit a crime? Who has the stronger argument? It slides toward becoming an emotional argument. The goal in these arguments is revenge, more than justice.
To be fair and transparent, one might make the case that hate crime laws should apply whenever someone commits a crime against anyone they don’t like. Right? I understand horrible crimes have been committed based on hate and prejudice. I understand that hate hurts. I also understand that some laws — like anti-bully laws — are intended to expand what hate and hurt can apply. But if we’re going to be honest, we really don’t like the perpetrators, right? We want them to change or go away. Isn’t that true?
Critics of Oklahoma’s proposed hoodie law shouldn’t focus on the risks of profiling, they should focus on the so-called “crime” itself and the real risks that criminalizing these ancillary offenses creates. Perhaps they are entirely legit. Perhaps wearing a hoodie aids a criminal much like a gun or even a heavy stick aids a criminal. That’s where the criticism and debate should focus.