Months after Philadelphia banned ski masks in public spaces, there’s still no plan to enforce the new law

For Leem Washington, ski masks aren’t just a fashion accessory that protects his face from the biting cold of Philadelphia winters — they also keep him from being a victim of mistaken identity.

“In Philly, you have to pick your poison,” said Washington, 19, noting that growing up in West Philadelphia, one of the most crime-plagued parts of the city, has left him in a constant state of “paranoia.” Ski masks, he said, are a form of protection from being wrongly identified for a crime by police or retaliation from people looking to settle a neighborhood vendetta.

Washington said he has lost several friends to gun violence and had run-ins with police that easily could have escalated, and he refuses to be yet another statistic.

“You have to either walk around and protect yourself or walk around and be a victim,” said Washington, who is Black.

That’s why when the Philadelphia City Council cited crime as the reason for a ban on ski masks or balaclavas in public spaces late last year, many criminal justice advocates and young people like Washington objected to the new regulation.

Now, nearly four months after the contentious ban became law, police officers have yet to put together a comprehensive plan to enforce it, according to local officials. The lack of clarity about the new regulation, which advocates argue is supposed to reduce violence, has only worsened division over the ban, critics say.