150-Year-Old Law Against Wearing Masks Used to Arrest Wall Street Demonstrators


Yesterday we reported that seven people had been arrested for participating in Occupy Wall Street, the vaguely defined, relatively disorganized financial-district protest that’s been going on (and dwindling down) for the past few days. Amid accusations of excessive police force, there was also the question of what, exactly, the protesters were being arrested for. Turns out, there’s a 150-year-old New York City law that bans “masked gatherings.” Five of the people arrested have been issued a violation for wearing masks.

The Wall Street Journal reports that 28-year-old Max Hodes, along with a few other people wearing bandanas, were pulled from a line of protestors and taken to the 1st Precinct, where he was issued a summons for “loitering and wearing [a] mask.” According to the New York Times, two men wearing masks and a woman with a plastic mask on the back of her head — possibly Anonymous “V” masks — were also arrested.

The anti-mask law goes back to 1845, when tenant farmers used disguises (dressing up like Indians) to attack law enforcement officials, apparently. In 1965 the law was updated to prevent masked gatherings of two or more people, except in the case of masquerade parties. Whew.

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said that in other protests in other cities, demonstrators have worn masks in the hopes of escaping identification and engaged in vandalism and confrontations with the cops. But, it sounds like the police mask-defense is more of a handy solution for quelling the protest effort and less about any real danger done by the “masked” (or bandana-clad) demonstrators.

Here’s video of at least one arrest (you can see at 0:04, the guy who is detained at 0:08 has the mask up on his head, not covering his face).

Two others were arrested on Monday for writing on a sidewalk with chalk — a Gandhi quote, to be specific.

Rare Charge Is Unmasked [WSJ]