A bill in the General Assembly would impose stricter penalties for people who wear hoods or masks while committing a crime.
Advocates with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina say the bill’s language is so broad that while it does not specify whether hoodie sweaters or jackets constitute “hoods,” it could potentially target people of color.
None of the bill’s nine Republican sponsors, including Rep. John Faircloth of Guilford County, would respond to requests for comment.
The legislation, HB237, would enhance the sentence for those convicted of a crime where they attempted to conceal their identity. It would automatically increase the felony and misdemeanor classifications for the crime by one class, which could lead to longer prison and probation sentences.
The bill passed its third reading in the House and passed its first reading in the Senate earlier this month.
Senior Policy Counsel for the ACLU of NC Elizabeth Barber said in an interview that the bill could lead to racially biased enforcement. In places that have rules banning hoodies, such as some shopping malls, enforcement of those rules mainly targets people of color.
“This enhancement will be used against people of color more than it will be against white people,” Barber said.
The bill also takes discretion away from judges to give an offender probation instead of jail time, Barber said.
“It’s really troubling, because it completely removes the penalty for a crime from the severity of a crime, two people convicted of the exact same thing can face vastly different punishments simply based on what they put on that morning,” Barber said.
Proponents of the bill hope that it would discourage suspects from concealing their identity during criminal acts. It is more difficult for police to identify a suspect who wears a mask or a hood during a crime.
This is not the first bill that would penalize individuals for concealing their identity.
A 2005 law still in effect in North Carolina prohibits anyone over the age of 16 from wearing “any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer” in public, according to NC 14-12.7.
Similar laws have been introduced in 13 states since 2017. Most of these bills were targeted at protesters and only two passed, according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.
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