A man who wore a racist Ku Klux Klan hood to the grocery store as a coronavirus mask will not face charges, according to police in Santee, Calif., a city with a long history of white supremacy and anti-Black violence.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced on Monday that it doesn’t have enough evidence to press criminal charges against the man, whose blatantly racist attire sparked outrage online and confrontations in-store on May 2.
The man claimed he was just “frustrated” with San Diego County’s mandatory mask rule due to COVID-19 and wore the hood because he didn’t like being told what to do, according to police. County residents must wear masks in public to avoid spreading the virus.
“He said that wearing the hood was not intended to be a racial statement,” the sheriff’s department said in a news release. “It was a mask, and it was stupid.”
Police did not explain why the man had a Ku Klux Klan hood — one of the most recognizable symbols of racism in the world — sitting around at home.
Several shoppers captured photos of the man with and without the mask and shared them over social media earlier this month. The man wore the distinct KKK hood along with shorts and a camouflage T-shirt. He appeared to be a middle-aged white man, although police have not released his name.
Witnesses said several store clerks confronted the man about the mask. He refused to take it off until a manager told him he would have to leave if he did not comply.
Vons grocery store and the mayor of Santee condemned the incident in separate statements last week.
The pointed KKK hood and robes are “the most visible Klan symbol of all,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. They’re also perhaps the second-most well-known symbol of racism in the world, behind the Nazi swastika.
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Another Santee man and his wife wore face masks with swastikas on them to a different grocery store last week, just a few days after the KKK incident occurred.
“It was 100 per cent intended to be a peaceful protest,” the man told NBC 7. He claimed the “only Nazi thing” going on was that California’s governor was being a Nazi with his coronavirus lockdown.
The man called himself “Dusty Shekel” on Facebook and “Reichard Nixon” on Instagram, the Times of San Diego reports.
No charges have been announced against the swastika mask wearers.
Police cited a Supreme Court ruling in explaining why the man in the KKK hood was not charged. They indicated that the hood was an act of free speech, and “the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate,” the department said.
“That said, this incident should serve as a reminder for anyone contemplating wearing or displaying items so closely associated with hate and human suffering that our society does not hold in high regard those who do so,” the statement said. “Santee is a city of families, and the community is rightfully disgusted at this man’s despicable behaviour.”
Santee Mayor John Minto has condemned both incidents of “intolerance,” and called for city council to address the issue at its next meeting.
“There is no room in our society for racial prejudice, and these incidents are not indicative of the people of Santee,” he said in a statement.
The city of Santee has a long and ugly history of racism and white supremacy that has earned it nicknames such as “Santucky” and “Klantee.” Several Black people have been attacked by white supremacist groups in the city over the years, including a Black marine whose neck was broken at a party in 1998. The marine was paralyzed in the attack.
The grocery store mask cases have sparked outcry among activists and everyday residents of San Diego County.
“Klantee whites are getting REAL BOLD,” one woman tweeted in response to the masks.
“Uh, you wear a KKK hood, you are making a racial statement,” another user tweeted. “Klantee gonna Klantee.”
Francine Maxwell, president of the San Diego Branch of the NAACP, condemned a “busy week” of racist mask incidents in a statement on May 9.
“From police violence and murder to symbols of mass hatred, our region has had many evidences that we are not where we want to be as a society,” Maxwell said in her statement.
“Their hatred is being inflamed because they are being asked to make a sacrifice (the wearing of masks) for the common good (slowing the spread of COVID-19).
“It is intolerable to these people to take any action for the love of their fellow human beings. While we reject utterly their hatred, we also pity them for their lack of love.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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