Some members of the Boston City Council are considering a ban on wearing masks during protests and in other public spaces.
The council held a hearing earlier this week to discuss the proposed ordinance. The potential new changes come after counter protests to the Straight Pride Parade in August where more than a dozen protesters were arrested.
“What they’re doing is not speech,” said Councilor Tim McCarthy. “They are using force and violence; that is not protected.”
Boston Police Superintendent William Ridge said when protesters where masks they become more confident to do things they may otherwise not if their faces were revealed.
“We become targets,” he said about police.
Councilor Ed Flynn said public safety is the biggest priority for everyone including protesters, tourists, and police officers.
“There is a role for protesting in our city and when protesting does take place there should be rules that everyone follows,” he said.
Ridge said masks also make it more challenging to identify those who break the law during these type of protests.
“We’re not able to identify them because we’ve got a lot of different people with their masks on,” he said. “So it’s an ongoing problem. It’s an officer safety problem and it’s of great concern to us.”
He also said some groups are working together and bringing in weapons like batons to use at these protests and are almost always masked.
However, other councilors were worried about how this new law would affect communities of color. Councilor Kim Janey pointed out that many young athletes wear hoods while they are working out or playing their sport. Hoods would be prohibited in the new law if passed.
“I worry that our young people who are athletes or who jog or play sports, or whatever they’re doing could get caught up in such a law,” she said.
Councilor Lydia Edwards believes those who protest peacefully while wearing a mask shouldn’t be punished.
“It’s about where we draw the line,” she said. “I am really curious to hear about where we draw the line between someone who is protesting peacefully while wearing a mask and someone who intends to do something while wearing a mask.”
“Why and how would we prohibit that? I am confused on how we draw that line,” she added about masked peaceful protestors.
Ridge said he understands that not everyone who wears a mask is planning on being violent.
The ordinance will stay in committee.