NYPD officers are reaching deep into their law books this week to quell the social media-driven Wall Street protests by using a 166-year-old throwback to make arrests: an 1845 statute banning masked gatherings.
The Wall Street Journal reports that five people so far have been issued a violation for breaking the obscure anti-mask law. At least one of the five, a 28-year-old from New Hampshire, was taken into police custody for several hours after being arrested. "I was arrested for looking like I ought to be arrested," Max Hodes told the paper.
The nonviolent protests against U.S. banking institutions began Saturday, reportedly drawing hundreds from the country to the Financial District’s Zuccotti Park, where protesters with sleeping bags and tents are preparing for a long demonstration.
WSJ explains the back-story on the law against masked gatherings:
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.
In 1965, the law was amended to prevent masked gatherings of two or more people, barring “a masquerade party or like entertainment.”
On Monday, two protesters were arrested for writing on the sidewalk with chalk. Elsewhere, one arrest was made for violating anti-graffiti laws, and another for disorderly conduct.