Petition circulates in opposition to Proud Boys attire at public meetings in New Hanover County
NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) –A group of people concerned over the Proud Boys’ appearance at a New Hanover County Board of Education meeting earlier in February, have drafted a petition asking that a state law concerning face coverings be enforced.
Residents behind the petition say they are concerned the Proud Boys are “concealing” their identities, as a means of intimidation at meetings.
Nearly two weeks ago, New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David wrote a letter to Sheriff Ed McMahon, offering guidance on their attire.
In the letter addressing the Proud Boys’ attire, David cited North Carolina General Statute § 14-12.8. The law was passed in 1953, and prohibits people from wearing any face covering that conceals their identity.
In spring of 2020, the COVID-19 health guidelines created an exception to that law, since face coverings were mandatory.
The DA’s Office provided WWAY with a quote regarding his letter to Sheriff Ed McMahon, it reads in part, “Free and open debate requires transparency. The law is intended to remove the cloak of anonymity from those who choose to engage in the public square.”
Residents drew up a petition that will be delivered to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, urging them to enforce the 70-year-old law.
“We’re hoping that they will honor the exception that the general assembly put forth, that a mask that’s covering your nose and mouth, that would conventionally be for public health purposes, would be excluded,” said Dr. Kyle Horton, petition author. “That you’re fine to wear a medical mask that meet CDC’s specifications, but if you are disguising yourself by wearing a gaiter, wearing a hat, that then covers the entirety of your person, you would not be allowed on public property concealing like that.”
They also plan to present the petition to the New Hanover County Board Of Commissioners, New Hanover County Board of Education, and Wilmington City Council.
“I think it intimidates some people not to show up, being that this group is the proud boys, and their history with storming the Capitol, and other things even accused of doing or have been convicted of doing is very problematic,” said Dorian Cromartie, petition supporter.
Lieutenant Jerry Brewer, a spokesperson with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, said the law exception that was enacted during the pandemic impacts how they determine if a mask is being worn for health reasons or otherwise.
“If you ask someone, why are you wearing this mask, and they say I’m wearing it for COVID-19, and you say oh I don’t think you are –you’ve got to take it off, we’ve got to say that to everybody in there. We can’t make a decision just on the way the mask looks,” said Lt. Jerry Brewer.
The Cape Fear Proud Boys sent a letter to the New Hanover County District Attorney in response the district attorney’s letter to the sheriff, which reads in part “reaching the reasonable suspicion standard for violating North Carolina General Statute will be impossible without verbal testimony from the suspected offender. Our members will exercise their fifth amendment rights if questioned.”
A spokesperson with the Cape Fear Proud Boys said their members wear facial coverings for different reasons, and not with the intention of intimidating, and the group feels targeted in the petition.
“I think when you’ve seen other groups that show up in public, that marched in the streets of Wilmington, that are wearing masks, and nobody says anything about that, everybody was fine,” said Cape Fear Proud Boys spokesperson. “Now that it’s us, all of a sudden we’re trying to dig up laws that were restructured post COVID. So, yes we’re being targeted.”
Also in the letter to the DA, the Cape Fear Proud Boys also stated “issuing of the letter could potentially move local law enforcement agencies closer to politically based selective prosecution and a resulting civil rights lawsuit.”
“I think the absolute best case scenario that they could possibly do, if they wanted to do some type of amendment – was just to say, alright it has to be a medical mask. In which case, our members would wear medical masks. I don’t think that there’s any way they’re going to say no masks at the school board at all, because then you would have people on the other side, –especially your individuals that were pretty hard on enforcing the mask themselves, they’re going to want to wear a mask,” said Cape Fear Proud Boys spokesperson.
New Hanover County Board of Education Member Stephanie Walker asked for the law to be discussed at the New Hanover County Board of Education’s agenda meeting on February 28, but it has been tabled until it will potentially be brought up at the Board of Education meeting in April.