Philadelphia City Council passes bill to ban ski masks, balaclavas in public places

Councilmembers voted 13 to 2 to pass the legislation and send it to the mayor's desk.

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Friday, December 1, 2023
Philadelphia City Council passes bill on wearing ski masks, balaclavas
Philadelphia City Council passes bill on wearing ski masks, balaclavas in public places

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia City Council has passed a ban on wearing ski masks in certain public places in the city.

Once signed into law, the ban would prohibit wearing ski masks, balaclavas, or other ways of concealing one's face in public places, including schools, recreation centers, parks, day cares, city-owned buildings and mass transit.

SEPTA already banned face masks on public transit in June.

Under the passed legislation, there would be exemptions for religious requirements and other free speech needs.

If a person is caught wearing a ski mask in a public place, they would be fined $250 but they would not be charged with anything.

If the person is caught wearing a ski mask during a criminal activity, they would face a fine of up to $2,000.

City council members voted 13 to 2 to pass the legislation and send it to the mayor's desk.

Councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier voted against the ban.

"I, in good faith, cannot vote to support this," Brooks said. "My fear is we're putting legislation on the books for a certain population that won't even realize that this will victimize them until it does."

Councilmembers say Philadelphia has seen an uptick in people wearing ski masks as they commit crimes.

Councilmember Anthony Phillips, who sponsored the bill, said he hopes this will help Philadelphia police solve crimes.

"What I've heard from the Philadelphia Police Department is that right now our city is under siege," Phillips said. "What they are concerned about is that they cannot solve many murders, as well as shootings, in the city of Philadelphia because most people are wearing ski masks."

The legislation touched on several recent incidents.

In September 2022, five masked people shot into a crowd after a junior varsity football game, killing 14-year-old Nicolas Elizalde.

In May 2023, someone in a ski mask shot and killed a 15-year-old on a public bus.

In July, an attacker in a ski mask and body armor killed five people and injured two children in the city's Kingsessing section.

"We can't help solve a crime if we can't see who is committing it," said Councilmember Sharon Vaughn said during Thursday's hearing.

Many opponents of the bill, including a representative from the ACLU, spoke against it before Thursday's vote.

Solomon Worlds, of the Philadelphia ACLU, called the legislation 'fundamentally unfair.' He said it could further criminalize young people of color.

"Safety is important, but there is no evidence to suggest ski masks cause or encourage violent crime," Worlds said.

Mary Henin, President of UAW Local 5502, Defenders Union, said, "This is only going to reinforce the existing lack of trust between community members and public safety officers."

Action News has reached out to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's office for comment on the passage, and to see if he intends to sign the bill into law, but we are waiting to hear back.

A representative for Philadelphia police says they are reviewing the passed legislation.

(Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Mary Henin's title)