North Carolina Criminal Mask Legislation Criticized With COVID-Era Concerns

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, May 29, 2024 - 11:40 PM

Authored by Matt McGregor via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A North Carolina bill to increase penalties for criminals who wear masks to conceal their identity while committing a crime is being scrutinized and framed as an attempt to target those who continue to follow COVID-era health precautions.

Men and women dressed in black attend a protest in Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 20, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Republican state Sen. Buck Newton told The Epoch Times that the bill’s intent, however, is not to prohibit people from wearing masks if that is what they choose, but in response to growing law enforcement and business concerns over crime.

More and more people are using masks and other clothing to disguise themselves when engaging in criminal behavior,” Mr. Newton said. “It seems logical to increase penalties for those who do so.”

According to the language of House Bill 237 titled “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals,” the bill repeals an exemption to the previous mask law that allowed for people to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The law before COVID was pretty clear, and its main reason was to combat the Klu Klux Klan and other organizations who hide behind masks while attempting to intimidate people or do criminal acts,” he said. “So, we didn’t see any reason why we needed to maintain this exception which really wasn’t even necessary when it was passed for COVID.”

The exemption that was crossed out which has become the subject of controversy allows for “any person wearing a mask for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others.”

Essentially, the target of the bill are those who are trying to hide their identity, Sen. Newton said, so people who choose to wear a mask for COVID reasons, or because it’s a part of their job, are free to continue to do so.

Other exceptions include performing arts, Halloween, and Mardi Gras masks during holidays and other special occasions, he said.

“They’re not hiding their identity just because the wearing of a mask might obscure their identity, so that’s OK,” he said. “And that’s what the law has been since the 1950s. All we’ve done is eliminate the 2020 exception that was created in 2020 and go back to where we’ve been from the 1950s to 2020.”

‘Some People Say We Are Fear-Mongering’

However, the response to the proposed legislation has been one of fear, he said, with many Democrats calling referring to the bill as anti-mask legislation.

Democrat state Sen. Sydney Batch spoke about the legislation on ABC News’ podcast “Start Here” when she criticized the removal of the COVID exemption.

She said she agreed with Republicans on needing legislation to make the jobs of law enforcement easier, but at the same time, the immunocompromised must stay protected.

Some people say that we’re fear-mongering,” Sen. Batch said. “And what I would tell you is that for someone who’s been immunocompromised in the past and had to wear masks, and my children and my husband wear masks to protect me, you know, I’m not fear-mongering. It’s a genuine concern, right? Somebody can actually die and get very ill if they are not able to protect themselves, if they’re immunocompromised, etc.”

She went on to say that, if passed, the legislation would disproportionately impact the black community.

“And so there are a lot of individuals in the community that will still wear a mask,” she said. “A lot of black churches, you'll see people still wearing masks, but they also disproportionately, if you look at statistics, also get stopped by and questioned by police, disproportionate to, obviously, the population.”

‘Whether the Klan or Antifa, We Want them Unmasked’

The bill is also in response to organizations like the masked Antifa and the most recent pro-Palestinian protesters who have been witnessed wearing masks to protect their identity while damaging property and committing crimes.

“I don’t think I can recall ever seeing a picture of a person who is supposed to be a part of Antifa who wasn’t masked,” Mr. Newton said. “Whether they are the Klan or Antifa, we want them unmasked. Law enforcement wants them unmasked. And I think the general public would like them unmasked.”

Additional penalties found in the bill “create civil liability” for protesters who block roads for emergency vehicles.

Tara Muller, a policy attorney with Disability Rights North Carolina, told ABC News that the proposed legislation is an affront to those who see masks as a way to protect health.

“This law says to them that you are not welcome in our community and we don’t value your presence to accommodate your need to wear a mask,” she said.

‘Lies and Malicious Information’

According to Republican state Rep. Ken Fontenot in a Carolina Journal opinion piece, the only people who need to worry about the “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” legislation are the criminals.

The title is plain enough, straight to the point, and completely accurate,” Mr. Fontenot said. “The law is reasonable and should be enacted immediately. I write about this because a lot of lies and malicious misinformation has been spread concerning this law. Personally, I’m upset because the slander that has been spread is dangerous and completely unfounded in reality.”

He said that criminals are the ones who are propagating lies that the legislation is targeting those who want to wear masks for reasons other than committing a crime, such as perceived health maintenance.

“This law ONLY applies to people wearing masks while committing crimes, no more and no less,” Mr. Fontenot said.

The reaction to the bill is unfortunate, Mr. Newton said.

“I find it regrettable that so many people have been frightened into thinking that their mask-wearing for health reasons is somehow going to be criminalized,” he said.