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June 15, 2023

Philly considers banning ski masks on public property

The proposed ordinance follows SEPTA prohibiting the masks on buses and trains following two shootings on the public transportation system

Government City Council
Ski masks ban Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

City Councilmember Anthony Phillips is behind a bill that would ban wearing ski masks in public places, including schools, recreation centers, day cares, parks, city-owned buildings and on any mode of public transportation.

Philadelphians who casually don ski masks, or balaclavas, could end up paying fines for wearing them in public. A new bill introduced by City Councilmember Anthony Phillips would ban ski masks in schools, recreation centers, day cares, parks, city-owned buildings and public transportation.

The penalty for wearing facial coverings would be $250, and anyone wearing the mask while committing a crime would receive a $2,000 fine. The ban does not include religious coverings or health masks to protect people from spreading COVID-19 or other viruses.

MORE: SEPTA riders must remove ski masks following recent bus shootings

"Neighbors consistently ask me when Council will ban ski masks and, while going out in the community to get feedback on this issue, the common thread was that residents want a ban," Phillips said. "This is not only a public safety issue but also a quality-of-life issue because residents feel intimidated in their own neighborhoods. This is the beginning of addressing neighbors' concerns on this issue."

Last month, SEPTA enacted a similar rule. The transit authority said its police officers would start making people remove ski masks that conceal their identities. The enforcement came after two shootings on buses, including one where someone was wearing a mask. 

On May 17, two men were injured in a shooting on a Route 33 bus by a man police said was wearing a ski mask. One 18-year-old victim was shot in the groin, and a second victim, also 18, suffered a graze wound to his left thigh. 

On May 24, a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed on a Route 23 bus traveling near the 5200 block of Germantown Avenue. Video released by police revealed a suspect wearing a black face mask with a hood over his head. Another man believed to be involved in the incident was not wearing a mask.

"When police see someone wearing a ski mask-like covering, they are asking them to remove it," SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said about the rule. "If they refuse, they will be escorted off of SEPTA property. No other SEPTA employees are being asked to enforce this. These engagements and potential removals are only being done by SEPTA police."

In Virginia, a similar law bans anyone over the age of 16 from wearing any mask or hood with the intent to hide their identity. 

In West Virginia, the law states that people are not allowed to wear facial coverings to conceal who they are on any street, alleyway, road or public place. Florida, South Carolina and Georgia have similar laws in place. 

The bill is cosponsored by 10 councilmembers. Mayor Jim Kenney's office did not immediately respond to questions about whether the mayor would sign the bill if it passes.