A Mississippi county has declared it illegal to dress like a clown, and is threatening to levy $150 fines against anyone caught in a clown costume.
The Kemper County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Wednesday to implement the ban, which expires the day after Halloween. It makes it unlawful for anyone of any age to appear in public in a clown costume, clown mask or clown makeup, the Kemper County Messenger reports.
The newspaper reports that the measure was passed at the request of Kemper County Sheriff James Moore.
The national trend of people dressing up like clowns “has really gotten out of hand,” said Johnny Whitsett, president of the county board of supervisors.
What’s really gotten out of hand is the degree to which public officials have panicked over stories of threatening clowns, despite little evidence that the supposed clown panic is anything other than a wildly successful hoax perpetuated by mischief-making pranksters that’s been amplified by social media—and, too often, by credulous reporters at actual media outlets. There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of reports of “creepy clowns” stalking near wooded areas or trying to lure children, but hardly any of those reports have been substantiated in any meaningful way (although some enterprising criminals have used the clown panic to their advantage to commit crimes that likely would have happened anyway).
Still, that’s not stopping public officials from running scared. A school district in Connecticut has banned clown costumes for Halloween because they are “symbols of terror” and a police officer in Texas has suggested a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy towards all clowns. Ridiculous over-reactions from people trusted to be leaders—like the Kemper County Board of Supervisors— are a big reason why, two months after it started, the Great Clown Panic of 2016 is still going strong.
It should go without saying that Kemper County’s new anti-clown law is a violation of the freedom of expression—wearing a costume is not the same as “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” (and that limitation on expresison doesn’t mean what it’s commonly assumed to mean anyway). Hopefully this is one of those things that’s meant to be a deterrent and won’t actually be enforced.
If anyone in Kemper County does get a citation for dressing like a clown, here’s hoping they take the matter to court so we can all enjoy that spectacle.