Deranged Politicians Are Trying to Ban Wearing Masks

If you thought all the dumb controversy over masking that took place during the height of the COVID pandemic was finally behind us, think again. Lawmakers across the country are now considering a ban on wearing masks in public, in a naked bid to crackdown on pro-Palestianian protestors, The Washington Post reports.

In the wake of another potential COVID wave, the proposed mask bans raises obvious health concerns, especially for disabled and immunocompromised people, as well as questions around how such a measure would be enforced.

In North Carolina, a mask ban has already been passed by state legislators, but was vetoed, for reasons mostly unrelated to the ban itself, by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. A Republican legislature is expected to override the veto; last year, per The Associated Press, all 19 of Cooper's vetoes were successfully overturned.

There and elsewhere, the reasons for the ban are explicit: to prevent criminals and pro-Palestinian protestors — who anti-maskers have largely lumped together — from hiding from the law. And unlike during the COVID lockdowns, when the mask issue fell along partisan lines, now even Democratic politicians are taking up the cause.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, for instance, summed up the sentiments of both parties on Monday, following pro-Palestinian demonstrations in her state.

"We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior," Hochul said, as quoted by the AP.

But even more controversially, Hochul even went as far as to suggest banning masks on subways, where "people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes" — and good luck with that. Millions of New Yorkers rely on the subway per day, and with its cramped conditions, many of them wear masks for medical reasons that can't be ignored on the whim of the law.

However unhinged this all may be, Hochul is joined by other power players: the ever-controversial NY mayor Eric Adams said, per The New York Times, that things should "go back to the way it was pre-COVID, where you should not be able to wear a mask at protests and our subway"; and Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass, meanwhile, has more or less parroted the same anti-mask rhetoric as Hochul.

Proponents of the mask ban, including Hochul, insist that it wouldn't target medical maskers. The North Carolina bill includes a provision that excludes medical maskers from the ban. Even if this were true, though, the measure, however extensive, would inevitably turn any masker minding their own business into suspicious characters in the eyes of law enforcement.

This is no less thorny in the context of a protest, where it would seem impossible to distinguish who's masking for medical reasons and who isn't.

"It really sets up a situation where we are likely to see selective enforcement against protesters that the authorities don't like," Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told WaPo.

And if harassment by cops isn't enough, a ban will undoubtedly embolden rabid anti-maskers, too. This is already reportedly happening in states where the ban is in effect. In North Carolina, a woman named Shari Stuart alleges that a man assailed her for wearing a mask into an auto shop. When she explained she had stage 4 breast cancer, according to WaPo, the man called her a "fucking liberal," pointed to the mask ban, and coughed on her, saying that he hoped the cancer would kill her.

"People are still going to think you are breaking the law if you're wearing a mask. They don't care what's wrong with you," Stuart told the newspaper. "I've thought I should wear masks with something printed on it like 'immune deficient' or 'cancer patient.' But we should not have to do that."

Outside North Carolina, at least, the mask bans may face significant hurdles to being passed, including legal challenges. The fact that this kind of rhetoric is on the rise at all, though, is worrying.

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