- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A Republican state senator’s proposal to make it illegal for people to conceal their identity in public is drawing criticism from people who say it could ban hoodies in Oklahoma.

Sen. Don Barrington said he’s targeting mask-wearing protesters out of concern for public safety and law enforcement. He said his intent isn’t to ban hoodies. But critics say the proposal leaves too much discretion to law enforcement and could allow them to target certain people.

The bill would make it illegal for someone to conceal his or her identity in public by using a “robe, mask, or other disguise.” The language would amend a section of law originally targeting the Ku Klux Klan that already makes it illegal to wear masks or hoods to conceal one’s identity during a crime or for the purpose of “coercion, intimidation or harassment.”

Though the bill doesn’t specifically mention hoodies, Barrington said his office has been flooded with calls and emails since stories began circulating online that say his proposal would ban such clothing. The legislative session begins Feb. 2, and it’s not yet clear how much traction the proposal has.

Barrington, a retired firefighter from Lawton, says he was prompted in part by mask-wearing protesters who rallied at the Capitol in recent years. He says those concerns were repeated when some masked people looted and torched buildings during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white police officer shot an unarmed, black 18-year-old.

“I like to think we take the security of our people seriously, especially at the Capitol and state buildings,” Barrington said. “It certainly had nothing to do with hoodies.”

The law already includes exemptions for Halloween masks, parties, parades and circuses, and Barrington would expand those to include coverings worn for religious reasons, safety or medical purposes, or to protect from the weather. Mascots also would be excluded.

Still, many think Barrington’s bill goes too far.

Mark Faulk, a filmmaker and community activist, said people engaged in civic protest may have legitimate reasons to keep their identities concealed.

“A lot of people have jobs where they feel it is best for them not to reveal their identity. Others may fear retribution,” Faulk said. “We’re talking about lawful, nonviolent protests. That’s a constitutional right.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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