Judge: Can’t unmask klan

New York Daily News, Nov. 20, 2002

The Ku Klux Klan can keep their hoods on.

A Manhattan judge ruled yesterday it was unconstitutional for the city to bar the white supremacists from covering their faces at a 1999 rally downtown.

The Police Department had cited an 1845 state law preventing people from wearing masks at public gatherings.

The klan complied but then sued the NYPD. Seventeen klan members – and 6,000 counterprotesters – turned out for the Foley Square rally.

Manhattan Federal Judge Harold Baer tossed out the law, finding it violated the klan’s right to free speech.

“No one disputes the fact that plaintiff is a notorious racist organization – at least, not this court,” Baer wrote.

The NYPD had argued the law is constitutional and said allowing demonstrators to wear masks makes it more difficult for cops to identify and apprehend wrongdoers.

The klan argued that the NYPD has been selective in its enforcement of the law. In 1977, Iranian students protesting the shah wore masks, as did protesters rallying after the funeral of Amadou Diallo in 1999.

In February, however, cops vowed to enforce the law at the World Economic Forum protests.

The city said it will appeal. “We think the decision is legally wrong. Moreover, we fear it deprives the Police Department of an important tool,” said Assistant Corporation Counsel Gabriel Taussig.

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