It’s true, is illegal to congregate in public with two or more people while each wearing a mask or any face covering which disguises your identity according to New York Penal Law 240.35(4).
The anti-mask law actually dates back to 1845 when farmers renting property in New York would dress in disguise (often as Native Americans) in order to attack members of law enforcement. They were protesting the lowering of wheat prices and forcible evictions.
Fast forward 165 years… really? That can’t be enforceable.
Now think 2011, the Occupy movement was sweeping across the globe with protests taking place in more than 82 countries and 95 cities. Protestors would gather together in public to peaceably protest against economic and social inequality.
The goal of the protests is to close the gap between those who are extremely well-off financially and those who are not. Members of the group say that this unbalance is only beneficial to a minority (the 1%) and undermines democracy in America.
The protests were tolerated by law enforcement for about two months, but by the middle of November, protestors were beginning to be forcibly removed from their camps.
At the Occupy Wall Street camp, protestors were being removed from the site beginning in September using this particular statute.
Another instance of masked protestors being arrested for wearing masks in public was in August 2012 when supporters of the Russian band Pussy Riot set up outside of the Russian Consulate to protest the prison sentences of band members. Three people were arrested in this incident.
In 1999, the law was also used against members of the KKK during a rally in Lower Manhattan, and again in 2000 during an anarchist rally. Interestingly, a judge overturned this decision ruling that the KKK must be allowed to wear masks. Hmmm?
What about Halloween you ask? Are children expected to miss out on the fun of dressing up and wearing the masks of their favorite cartoon heroes? No. In 1965, the law was amended to allow masks in the case of masquerade parties and Halloween costumes.
Many attorneys in New York are taking up the challenge to do away with the anti-mask law, calling it a violation of the peoples’ freedom of expression when masks are worn during a peaceful protest.