KKK hood man won’t be charged … no kidding

A man whose image went viral after he wore a KKK-style white hood into a Southern California supermarket won’t be charged with a crime.

Detectives investigated the incident, but after interviewing the man determined there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime, a sheriff’s press release says.

“The man expressed frustration with the coronavirus and having people tell him what he can and cannot do,” the release says. “He said that wearing the hood was not intended to be a racial statement. In summary he said, ‘It was a mask and it was stupid.’”

That’s hardly surprising, but it’s a sad state of affairs that this even needed to be a story. It should’ve been a no-brainer. Yet the San Diego County sheriff was investigating it as a hate crime, which tells me more than I need to know about the San Diego County sheriff.

Before anyone clutches their pearls on me, I’m not condoning what the fool did. It’s unbelievably thoughtless and careless, and if it were my son, I’d whip his tail — even if he were a grown man. But being stupid isn’t a crime … even if you can call it “hateful,” and I can’t possibly call it hateful without knowing his motive, being hateful isn’t a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court has made that perfectly clear.

According to the story, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying that the man’s actions weren’t surprising because, “History teaches us that during times of crisis people are looking for a scapegoat.”

I’m not sure about that. It seems like a quantum leap to conclusion to suggest that because a fool walks into the grocery in a KKK hood that he’s blaming black Americans for the coronavirus. Based on the man’s statements to law enforcement, it seems to me that the only scapegoat he’s aiming at is authority in general. Upset that he is being forced to wear a mask, he decides to make a loud statement, and in doing so he let his anger stand in the way of his good judgment.

But the Anti-Defamation League is entitled to their opinion. I’m much more concerned that the San Diego sheriff would attempt to turn this into a criminal violation. Have we gone mad? I’m only 40 (and change), but I’ve never seen a time when Americans were so quick and willing to abandon the Constitution. And the Constitution makes it clear that certain measures of speech are protected — even those we might personally find repulsive.

Personally, I find flag-burning to be offensive. If I were a veteran, I’d find it even more insulting. But even as just ordinary Joe Citizen, burning the Stars & Stripes is offensive to me. And if someone attempted to burn a flag on my business property, I’d ask them to leave. But I wouldn’t expect them to be charged with a crime.

Likewise, if someone showed up in my business wearing a KKK hood, I’d ask them to leave. But I wouldn’t expect them to be charged with a crime — any more than I would expect someone to be criminally charged if they showed up in my business with a swastika … though they would be asked to leave, too.

I’m not even a fan of flying Confederate flags as a statement. In my hometown, someone chose to prominently display a Confederate flag on their private property directly across the street from our visitor center, so that out-of-town guests will be sure to see it. I find that to be in poor taste, and I don’t like the image that it portrays of our community — but it’s certainly not a crime, nor should it be.

There are certainly circumstances where wearing a KKK hood could be considered criminal. If I brandish a firearm in such a manner as to intimidate someone, I’ve committed a felony — aggravated assault. Likewise, if someone is wearing a KKK hood in an effort to strike fear, it’s not hard to envision a criminal scenario.

But to automatically label something a hate crime because we disagree? Is that what we’ve come to in this country. Being ugly and divisive does not subject American citizens to criminal charges. The First Amendment still means something.

Ben Garrett

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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