Street performers petitioning city ordinance against masks

Street performers petitioning city ordinance against masks

Posted:
Street performer Justin Webb was fined by Knoxville officials because his costume covers his face. Street performer Justin Webb was fined by Knoxville officials because his costume covers his face.

By LAURA HALM
6 News Reporter

Knoxville street performers are standing up against a city law which enforces fines for wearing a mask in public.

One performer told 6 News he had to learn about this city ordinance the hard way.

Dressing up in costume catches a lot of attention on Market Square, but performer Justin Webb recently caught a lot of heat.

"The officer came and told me there was a city ordinance that he had to fine me over. So he came and ticketed me for it," said Webb.

Ordinance 19-62 has been on the books in Knoxville since the 1960s.

"People out in public spaces may not wear a mask or otherwise disguise their appearance so they cannot be identified," said Charles Swanson City of Knoxville's Law Director.

Webb was hit with a $50 fine, and he is now working to get this ordinance changed. He's started a petition on Facebook and emailed city leaders.

"We have to stand up for what we believe in. We have our first amendment rights to be here especially in a public area. So I'm not going to let a small ticket stop me," added Webb.

According to Swanson, city leaders are listening. He says they're reviewing Ordinance 19-62 and deciding if any changes need to be made.

"We'll listen to all the viewpoints and try to come up with the best answer we can to the situation," added Swanson.

Officials with the Knoxville Police Department say this is simply a safety issue, and it's up to an officer when someone is in violation.

"It's their art and how they want to express themselves, but I can see where the line could get crossed. What if it's a criminal? It would be harder to identify them," said shopper Monisha Kumar.

Since receiving the citation, Webb says he's been more cautious about wearing masks but is still doing what he loves.

There's no word yet on when a final decision could be made. In the meantime, city leaders say officers are being more cautious about ticketing street performers in costume.

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