Over the last month, masked Anonymous protesters have made a weekly date
to demonstrate at BART stations in San Francisco. When the cops have moved to arrest some, it's usually been for refusing to obey an officers' orders, delaying traffic, or disturbing the safe operation of the railroad.
But it seems that Anonymous would have a much harder time conducting such a protest in the, say, New York City subway, as cops there have a weapon against protesters who conceal their faces.
An article in the Wall Street Journal
this week outlines how a handful of masked protesters picketing Wall Street this week have been arrested for violating an obscure 1845 law against protesters wearing masks. How quaint.
New York's law dates back to 1845, when lawmakers tried to quell uprisings by tenant farmers who "used disguises to attack law enforcement officers," according to a later U.S. Court of Appeals ruling. A dip in the price of wheat left many in debt to landowner Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.
After Mr. Rensselaer moved to evict tenants, disgruntled farmers disguised themselves as "Indians," dressed in "calico gowns and leather masks" and attacked agents of the landlords. The court papers said the tactics adopted by these rebel groups ranged from "tarring and feathering" to murder, including a sheriff.
The law was amended in 1965 to prevent masked gatherings of two or more people, with a significant exception: "a masquerade party or like entertainment." It received substantial attention in 1999 when, on the basis of the law, the city rejected a request from splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan to hold a masked protest in Manhattan.
The piece had one other point of potential interest to Bay Area readers, namely that an Oakland man was among those arrested in the protest, for so aptly living up to a stereotype of Californians -- i.e., chalking a Gandhi quote on the sidewalk. Apparently, such civil disobedience doesn't fly in the Big Apple.
Oakland, Calif., native Jason Ahmadi, 26 years old, said he was issued a summons for "damage to the sidewalk" after scribbling a Gandhi quote on the concrete near Zuccotti Park.
"The cops asked me what other country I'd rather live in," he said. "I said the point was to make this country better."