A couple of days ago I made fun of State Senator Don Barrington (R-Lawton) for his proposal to change existing state law regarding the wearing of disguises. I asked what would we do when it gets very cold, or how would we handle Halloween.
Turns out that Sen. Barrington's proposed changes address precisely those issues, so I shouldn't have made fun of him for ignoring them. It also addresses the issue of folks who may have covering for religious purposes or medical reasons. Nor does it designate hoods of any kind; that language is in the original law that was aimed at the KKK.
On the other hand, the fact that the new language addresses precisely those issues highlights the more serious problem remaining with Sen. Barrington's proposal. Currently, the statute outlaws wearing a disguise for the purpose of committing a crime. Sen. Barrington's change would outlaw wearing a potential disguise in public, period.
Why would we need to change a law that makes it a crime to commit a crime while wearing a disguise (and why would we need a law that makes it a crime to commit a crime while wearing a disguise anyway -- we're already talking about committing a crime, aren't we?) to one that makes it a crime to go out in public wearing a disguise? Sen. Barrington's own statement on the matter says that the proposed changes are meant to "prevent the wearing of masks or disguises in the commission of a crime." Which the current statute already does. So who or what is harmed by someone who walks around looking like someone they're not, if that someone breaks no other law?
For example, I am of a conservative bent and disagree with folks who present themselves as other than the gender their chromosomes assign them -- but I'm not interested in making them criminals for doing so (that bag with those shoes is a big enough crime already, honey), and Sen. Barrington's proposed changes would do that. Nor am I interested in making criminals out of folks who want to wear masks in public or otherwise conceal their features for whatever reason the wiring inside their heads suggests is necessary, unless someone shows me a better reason for doing so than Sen. Barrington has done.
The case of Eric Garner, a man who died in police custody after resisting arrest for selling individual cigarettes to avoid New York City's cigarette tax, has a lot of things to say to us. And one of them is that every time we put a law on the books, we say that this is something we are OK with people potentially dying over. Because every time a police officer confronts someone acting illegally that person may try to get away, or resist arrest, or attack the officer, and that provides for a confrontation in which either the person being arrested or the officer might get hurt or killed. Some laws are important enough that we accept that.
And some aren't, and this should be one of them.