AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In the latest sign of growing divisions within the Democrat Party over the far-left criminal justice “reform” movement, liberals in Philadelphia have found themselves at odds over a new proposed policy banning ski masks in the city.
Amid a dramatic spike in violent crime in the City of Brotherly Love, some Democrat leaders are now pushing for a ban on full-face coverings like ski masks and balaclavas. The proposed legislation, which most of the overwhelmingly Democrat City Council supports, would prohibit wearing the garments on public property like inside schools, at city parks, and on public transit. Anyone who violates the ordinance could be subject to a $250 fine.
Philadelphia recorded more than 500 homicides for the second year in a row in 2022, while overall violent crime increased seven percent from the already record highs in 2021. In many cases, perpetrators wear face coverings, making it difficult for police to identify them. The Philadelphia police department has said that face masks are the “number one” obstacle to solving homicides.
Democrat Councilman Anthony Phillips, the sponsor of the ski mask ban, has said the proliferation of ski masks being used by people committing crimes has forced police to work harder and is “a problem that we cannot ignore.”
States like Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, and Florida already have bans on full face coverings in public places. Amid similarly drastic crime problems, other cities are also considering bans of their own.
However, not everyone on the left is a fan of the sudden urge of some Democrat leaders to crack down on crime. Kristin Henning, a professor at Georgetown Law School, has argued that banning ski masks amounts to “traumatizing Black and brown children who are more likely to come into contact with police as a result,” further calling Philadelphia’s law a “criminalization of normal adolescent fads and trends.”
The ski mask debate highlights a larger trend within the Democrat Party of shifting attitudes on the criminal justice “reform” movement as crime spirals out of control.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in March, all five of the city council members currently running for mayor have made public safety and supporting police a top issue. None of them have proposed cutting even one penny from the city’s $800 million police budget, and several have even proposed increasing funding for new police equipment and training.
But back in 2020, these same city council members voted to cut $33 million in police funding amid the rise of the “Defund the Police” movement. They also voted to eliminate supposedly “racist” policies like stop and frisk, mandated that the police department hire “equity” managers, and required “implicit bias training” for officers.
Much of this newfound interest in law and order is likely attributable to mounting voter backlash over rising crime. In San Francisco earlier this year, far-left prosecutor Chesa Boudin – once seen as a rising star within the Democrat Party – saw many of his high-profile liberal supporters, including Mayor London Breed, abandon him ahead of his recall election. That recall effort was ultimately successful, sending a clear message that, even in deep blue areas like San Francisco, voters will only put up with so much lawlessness and chaos.
The growing divide over criminal justice policies has also been on display at the national level as well. In March, President Joe Biden signed a resolution blocking a D.C. crime bill that would have slashed prison sentences and virtually ended prosecution of many offenses, even as crime in the nation’s capital continues to rise.
The Republican-led resolution gained a surprising amount of Democrat support in the House and Senate, yet was still opposed by the majority of the party. Many Democrats were outraged over Biden’s decision to sign the bill, calling it a “complete betrayal.” D.C.’s non-voting delegate, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, said specifically that Democrat senators only voted for the resolution because, “with the nationwide increase in crime, most senators do not want to be seen as supporting criminal justice reform.”
After more than two years in which virtually every Democrat fully embraced the most radical excesses of the criminal justice “reform” movement, the sudden reversal toward support has left many liberals frustrated. In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times last month, columnist Nicholas Goldberg lamented Boudin’s ousting, saying that voters “didn’t give him enough of a chance.”
Goldberg also complained about “powerful political pressure from police and prison guard unions,” a tactic deployed often by proponents of far-left criminal justice policies to dismiss very real concerns by the public about their safety.
With crime a top concern for voters throughout the country, the growing rift within the Democrat Party over how to address it is sure to grow. With powerful donors like George Soros continuing to push soft-on-crime policies, but voters making clear they want safer streets and tougher punishments for criminals, Democrats could be headed for a self-induced electoral reckoning.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.