Experts: Alabama’s Mask Law is Outdated

Posted by .

 1461442876 
1547631614
masked_protester_taking_jis_self_portrait_against_background_of_barricades_on_fire-_dynamivska_str-_euromaidan_protests-_events_of_jan_19_2014

Source: Mstyslav Chernov,Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: The original version of this story said that Hoover police warned Carlos Chaverst to remove his mask. Chaverst’s arrest was based on video evidence during a demonstration. It is unclear whether he was warned prior to his arrest. 

 

Protesters at a Walmart in Hoover chanted “no justice no peace” one night last month as they approached the entrance. There have been several similar demonstrations in the wake of the fatal police shooting of a black man at the Galleria mall on Thanksgiving. At one of those demonstrations, police arrested protest leader Carlos Chaverst. They charged him with disorderly conduct and loitering for wearing a mask. It’s one of the more antiquated laws in Alabama. 

Chaverst says his face was covered that night, but he wasn’t wearing a mask.

“It covers my entire face but is literally meant for you to wear to keep from the cold, to keep the cold air out of your face during the wintertime.”

He says he just wanted to keep his face warm. Most of the protests Chaverst organized have been outside. The night he was arrested, temperatures dropped to nearly 25 degrees.

Hoover City Administrator Allan Rice says police warned Chaverst to uncover his face but he refused. That brings us to an obscure section of the state’s loitering law. It says a person wearing a mask in public can be charged with loitering. But the legality of that loitering law is questionable, says Robert Kahn, law professor at the University of St. Thomas. “I think using the law the way it was used against the protest leader is unconstitutional” Kahn says.

Over the last decade or so there have been numerous challenges to mask laws across the U.S., including by the Ku Klux Klan. Kahn says the arguments have led many states to change the language of the law, adding the “intent to intimidate.” But Alabama’s law includes no such language.

Former Alabama senator and lawyer Hank Sanders says Chaverst’s charge violates his first amendment right.

“It’s certainly inconsistent with the right to freedom of speech and the right to organize and the right to protest.”

Sanders says Alabama has a long history of using loitering laws to disenfranchise African Americans. He says after the Civil War and during reconstruction, the state passed several loitering laws to put black people in jail, and Chaverst’s case is no different.

“This is another misuse of the concept of loitering; it is used to oppress people and repress people” Sanders says.

This isn’t the first time police have used the charge of loitering to silence protesters. In 2017, officers in Auburn threatened to arrest masked demonstrators outside an event featuring white nationalist Richard Spencer. The event attracted anti-fascist protesters. Many of them covered their faces with bandanas. “That could be very politically intimidating to the police officer, but that can’t be a reason for applying the mask law,” Kahn says.

Both Kahn and Sanders believe Alabama’s mask law should be repealed or amended as it has been in other states. Meanwhile, Chaverst plans to challenge the charges and the mask provision in court.

Janae Pierre

Janae Pierre

Host/Reporter



Family of Emantic Bradford Jr. Renews Calls for Transparency
02-20-2019

The family of a man killed by police in a Thanksgiving mall shooting wants authorities to release all video footage and the name of the officer involved.

What the DOJ Review Could Mean for Bradford Shooting Investigation
02-11-2019

The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the case of the Hoover police officer who shot and killed 21-year-old Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. on Thanksgiving. To help us unpack this, we turned to former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Joyce White Vance.

Officials Won’t Name Hoover Officer Involved in Shooting. Why Not?
02-7-2019

Officials still have not released the name of the police officer who shot and killed a 21-year-old black man at the Riverchase Galleria mall. The attorney general cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Should authorities release his name?

Protests Move To Montgomery, Hoover Mayor Speaks Out
02-6-2019

Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato says the city plans to defend the unidentified officer who shot and killed Emantic Bradford Jr. in any future civil litigation. Meanwhile, outraged protesters demonstrate outside of the state attorney general’s office in Montgomery.

AG Steve Marshall Explains Why He Cleared Hoover Officer in Fatal Shooting
02-6-2019

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office spent more than two months investigating the shooting death of Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. at the hands of a Hoover police officer. Marshall released the findings of his investigation and explained to WBHM why he won’t prosecute the officer.