ACLU says it has 'a lot of concerns' about Portland police chief's mask ban idea

Violence breaks out during a protest in downtown Portland on June 29. (KATU image.)

Mat dos Santos, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon, responded Thursday to a controversial idea suggested by Portland's police chief, a possible ban on wearing masks during the commission of a crime.

"We have a lot of concerns about any kind of policy that would be looking at something like masks as opposed to behavior," dos Santos explained.

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw threw out the idea in light of the violence that erupted during protests last weekend in downtown Portland.

"There were entities that planned a brawl in the city of Portland and no one seems to be upset about that," Outlaw told reporters during a news conference Wednesday. "Legislation would really be helpful prohibiting the wearing of masks during the commission of a crime. ... If you knew that you can be easily identified, do you think you would be as inclined to commit that act of violence or commit that crime personally?"

"We're talking about people who are out on the streets protesting," dos Santos said, "and there are a lot of legitimate reasons why someone might be wearing a mask. Everything from they're sick, to they have a hijab for religious reasons, or maybe they don't want their landlord or their boss to know that they're out protesting because they fear rightly First Amendment retaliation for their point of view."

Outlaw said, "In other states, you'll see that it's illegal to wear during a commission of a crime."

Around 15 states and several local governments nationwide have some kind of anti-mask law in place. They typically ban masks from being used to intimidate others. Georgia's Supreme Court upheld a law banning masks when used to intimidate people on the grounds that intimidation is not protected speech. But federal judges struck down an anti-mask law in Indiana, saying it infringed on a right to anonymous speech. Similar measures were also struck down in Florida and Tennessee on the grounds that they were too broad.

"We wholeheartedly support an individual's First Amendment rights to free speech, but we cannot continue to allow people to use the guise of free speech to commit crime," Outlaw said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Ted Wheeler said Thursday, "He, as well as his senior policy advisors, will be talking with Chief Outlaw more about this suggestion. We’d also like to get community leaders to weigh in."

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