December Calendar Of 2024

18-year-old charged with violating mask law: ‘I didn’t even know it was a law. Nobody knew it was a law’

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC/Gray News) – A decades-old South Carolina law making wearing a mask illegal is being questioned following the arrest of an 18-year-old in February.

Jabarie Coleman of North Charleston was arrested on Feb. 7 for resisting arrest, public disorderly conduct and most notably “wearing masks and the like.” The law prohibits anyone over the age of 16 from wearing a mask that conceals their identity in public.

“I didn’t even know it was a law. Nobody knew it was a law,” Coleman said.

Coleman was walking past the Fairwind-Oakfield Apartment Complex with his younger siblings after playing basketball when he noticed North Charleston Police officers breaking up a large fight.

The incident report states that Coleman yelled profanities at officers and refused orders, but Coleman said officers targeted him for wearing the mask.

Jabarie Coleman, 18, is seen wearing a mask similar to the one he was wearing the night he was arrested.(Live 5)

“I was confused. I was so confused. Everybody in that jail was confused,” Coleman said.

The incident report stated Coleman was wearing a mask, similar to that of a ski mask, in an attempt to hide his identity and was observed walking to the scene without any prior involvement.

But Coleman showed a similar version of the mask he was wearing when arrested, a mask that his attorney said does not conceal his identity.

Coleman said the mask is used to cover multiple scars on his face from a random shooting last August that left him with lifelong injuries.

“He wears his mask because of a scar on his face, not because he’s a thug,” Coleman’s mother Shenee Hayward said. “My son graduated school in December, walked across the stage and got his GED. I’m definitely proud of him.”

Hayward said she wished officers would have given him a warning or education on the rules that surround the law before the arrest happened.

“But now it’s like, he doesn’t even go outside,” Hayward said. “Let everybody know what’s going on. I don’t even think that this should be a crime. COVID is still out here; people wear masks every single day. What makes him wearing the mask different than anybody else?”

South Carolina was among 18 states that adopted similar laws between the 1920s and 1950s to prevent the Ku Klux Klan members from disguising themselves.

“To my understanding, this law was enacted with the KKK in mind, and now, we see this insane irony where it’s being used to prosecute young Black men. That’s what’s happening, and just the sheer irony of that is really worth something,” Coleman’s attorney, Riana Husted, said.

The current law states “no person older than 16 years of age shall appear or enter upon any lane, walk, alley, street, road, public way or highway of this State or upon the public property of the State or of any municipality or county in this State while wearing a mask or other device which conceals his identity.”

South Carolina’s law makes no mention of intent, unlike similar statutes in other states.

“There’s a difference between let’s say, somebody wearing a mask in the middle of a bank robbery or someone who arguably is probably trying to hide their face, but he wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Husted said. “He had no malicious intent to hide who he is.”

When asked how common this charge is, Husted said she doesn’t know anyone who has represented someone on this type of charge and could hardly find a page of recent arrests on the public index.

“I’m shocked, as an attorney, I’d never heard of that kind of charge before. I immediately wanted to help because it’s just so ridiculous that someone would be charged with something like that,” Husted said.

The incident report cited is one of three written by officers on the scene, but the others are not yet publicly available.

Husted said the next step is a preliminary hearing where the officers will have to testify under oath.

In the meantime, Coleman’s dream of joining the U.S. Marine Corps is on hold.

“I really just got to wait till after the case is over. I still want to be a Marine. I just have to wait,” Coleman expressed.

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