The Philadelphia City Council has voted to ban ski masks in some public places, and it could go into effect as soon as next week.
Per CNN, the council passed a bill banning balaclavas in city-owned buildings, public parks, schools, and on public transit in a 13-2 vote. The bill is an effort to cut down on crime in the city, the council said. Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to sign the law into effect next week. Anyone caught wearing a ski mask in one of the listed public spaces will be fined $250 or up top $2,000 if they wore it while committing a crime.
“The City of Philadelphia has been under siege with individuals who use ski masks to commit crimes. It’s caught onto not just young people, but young adults who have made this a particular thing to do," said council member Anthony Phillips. "The Philadelphia Police Department can’t tell who’s a criminal and not a criminal, which makes it difficult for crimes to be solved in Philadelphia."
As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer free pass, the bill has been met with opposition from residents and civil rights advocates. Activist Jetson Cruz said it would give police officers a free-pass to unjustly target young people supporting ski masks as a fashion statement.
"This raises some serious concerns constitutionally," said ACLU of Pennsylvania senior supervising attorney Steve Loney. "We’ve seen situations where just the knowledge that face coverings are banned in a place can still chill First Amendment activities."
In a tweet shared last week, council member Kendra Brooks wrote, "Today I voted against this bill to ban ski masks in public spaces. I cannot in good conscience vote to further criminalize Black and brown young people in our city."
American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania member Solomon Furious Worlds said the bill not impact crime in the city and will "disproportionately target young men of color." If the city wants to reduce crime, he added, they should prioritize mental health services, housing, and child care. "These are things that could actually deter criminal activity," Worlds said. "This ordinance is specifically made to try and authorize the Philadelphia police to authorize unlawful and unconstitutional stops."
Phillips, however, said that the bill is "balanced and thoughtful." He added there will be exceptions for anyone wearing ski masks for safety purposes at work, performing in some sort of theatrical production, or playing outdoor sports in winter.
Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Commissioner Francis Healy added that the mask mandate in the city, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, proved that face covering made it more difficult to identify criminals. “There was a time not so long ago when any average police officer would see a person donning a mask before entering a convenience store or a bank and they would believe a robbery was about to occur," he said. "However, the pandemic changed that mindset where people were actually more fearful of people without masks than with masks."
The bill cites various instances of violent crime in Philadelphia, including a May 2023 incident in which a masked suspect fatally shot a 15-year-old on a bus. In June, the city council said, a person wearing a ski mask killed five people in Kingsessing. The bill comes less than half a year after the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority banned ski masks on its services.