New York’s attorney general on Thursday praised the repeal of an archaic loitering law which made it a criminal violation for groups of people to wear masks in public.
Letitia James said it was “common sense policy” to repeal the nearly two-century-old statute, as it presented a “clear conflict of law” with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in April requiring that people wear face coverings in public to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“Even if it is difficult to imagine a police department enforcing, a prosecutor charging, or a judge upholding such a charge during the COVID-19 crisis, we should not tolerate a situation where following the law is dangerous,” James said in a press release.
Dan Quart, a member of the New York State Assembly, noted that “not only is the continued criminalization of face coverings confusing for all New Yorkers, it exposes men of color to police harassment.”
The anti-mask law’s origins “go back to a statute passed in 1845 to suppress armed uprisings by tenant farmers in the Hudson Valley who were using disguises to attack law enforcement officers,” according to the Adirondack Almanack website.
The statute made “being masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration, loiters, remains or congregates in a public place with other persons so masked or disguised, or knowingly permits or aids persons so masked or disguised to congregate in a public place” a criminal violation.