Does Oklahoma Ban Target Hoods or Hoodies?

Members of minstrel troupes, mascots and children playing Halloween pranks need not worry.

However, criminals in Oklahoma, who have already been warned to leave their guns at home during the commission of a crime, may soon have to leave their hoodies behind, too.

Republican Sen. Don Barrington plans to introduce a proposal in February that would make it illegal to wear “a mask, hood or covering” for concealment during a crime, or “for the purpose of coercion, intimidation, or harassment.”

Violation could result in a fine between $50 and $500 and/or a year in jail.

The proposal is written as a piece of anti-crime legislation. But it has become another flashpoint igniting a racial tinderbox of emotions.

Opponents say Barrington is taking aim at the “hoodie,” a sweatshirt with a hood attached, which has become both a fashion symbol and a personal statement.

However, Barrington told PJM his legislation has nothing to do with hoodies. He said it is simply an attempt to fight crime. The word “hood” might be included in the bill, but the word “hoodie” is not.

“The bill is not designed to ban hoodies, but to prevent the wearing of masks or disguises in the commission of a crime. The word ‘hoodie’ is nowhere included in the legislation,” Barrington said.

“Similar language has been in state statutes for many years, and a number of states have laws created for the same purpose. The proposal is intended to protect law-abiding citizens, not limit their rights.”

However, if it winds up that law enforcement sees hoodies as being inducted in this legislation, it would not break any new ground.

The Mounds Mall in Anderson, Ind., has signs posted at its entrances encouraging shoppers “for the safety and well-being of everyone, please lower your hoodie.”

Some businesses in the city of New York, and legislatures in nearly a dozen states across the nation, have enacted similar hoodie bans.

Police in Oklahoma interviewed by local reporters said crooks holding up gas stations or committing other crimes often wear hoodies or masks to cover their faces.

And supporters of Barrington’s proposal say it wouldn’t affect any law-abiding Oklahoman who wants to wear a “mask, hood, or covering,” especially if they are in a minstrel troupe, a circus, or are a child on Halloween.

It is good that Barrington is not singling out the hoodie as an element of outlaw fashion.

The hoodie has a proud history. Anilin Yusuf wrote in the Sunday Times that the hoodie’s history can be traced back to the monks of medieval Europe.

It became quite popular with men working outdoors during the winter in upstate New York during the 1930s, and caught on across the U.S. in the 1970s.

Of course, in the 1990s, when sweatshirts with hoods became known as “hoodies,” they also became both a fashion and personal statement.

Because of that, opponents of Barrington’s bill call those who see the legislation as benign at best nothing but naive, or at worse completely disingenuous.

They point out the hoodie has become a fashion statement of young African-American males and banning them amounts to nothing less than racial profiling.

Some Family Dollar stores in the St. Louis, Mo., area have enacted hoodie bans. One of their hoodie-wearing customers told KMOV-TV he considered that to be discrimination.

"It shouldn't matter that you're going in there with your hood on. If you're not stealing, and you're buying, purchasing something, what's the problem? That shouldn't be an issue,” he said.

Family Dollar corporate headquarters might wind up agreeing with him. They had no idea the stores had imposed bans on hoodies and promised KMOV-TV there would be an investigation.

Of course, any student of recent cable TV news history realizes this hoodie debate harkens back to the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. The Florida teenager’s hoodie became symbolic of the case, the controversy surrounding his death and Zimmerman’s acquittal by a jury.

The hoodie became such a racial and generational symbol that a March 2012 demonstration led by Al Sharpton in honor of Martin was dubbed the "Million Hoodie March."

Fox TV talk show host Geraldo Rivera blamed the hoodie as much as George  Zimmerman for Martin’s death.

“You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe, well people are going to perceive you as a menace. That’s what happens,” said Rivera. “It is an instant, reflexive action. Every time you see a kid sticking up a 7-11, he’s wearing a hoodie.”

Rivera later apologized for the remark but added he said it as part of a “life-saving campaign against hoodies.”

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski alluded with righteous indignation to the idea that a hoodie is more than a hood on a sweatshirt when she asked Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) this week if he was familiar with the anti-hoodie legislation (that is actually not anti-hoodie legislation) on the Morning Joe program that she co-hosts.

“Curious, this going on in your state, Oklahoma residents concerned about a proposed bill that would make it a crime to wear a hooded sweatshirt, the hoodies,” she said.

“It would, actually, lead to a $500 fine. Have you heard about that and what do you think about it?”

Cole replied that he had not heard about it but did offer an opinion.

“Hey, it gets windy and cold in Oklahoma. There's plenty of times that having a hood would be a smart idea.”

Not to worry, Congressman Cole.

Barrington’s proposal also exempts those who are seeking protection from the cold from a possible fine and jail sentence for wearing a hood in Oklahoma.

And remember, Sen. Barrington told PJM that even though the word “hood” is included in the legislation, the word “hoodie,” is not.