Should a person be threatened, harassed, or beaten up based on the way he is dressed? The answer is obviously no. Even posing the question brings up unpleasant images of lynch mobs and homophobic assaults from this nation’s past, events that should remain well and truly behind us. Yet, the specter of prejudice lives on, as American clowns fear for their safety.
That’s right, I said clowns. I know they get a bad rap in popular culture these days, but like it or not, clowns are people too. It all started with a rash of mysterious and undeniably creepy appearances by costumed clowns around the country, causing nearby residents to feel anxious and unsafe. While there’s no law against looking creepy, it’s understandable that citizens want to keep their neighborhoods safe and welcoming, but the response has been somewhat over the top.
One tweet from the Tennessee Highway Patrol warned people to call 911 if they saw anyone dressed as a clown and to beware of clowns trying to lure children into the woods. This last was paired with a misleading photograph of two clowns standing by some trees.
To date, there have been no confirmed instances of any clowns trying to lure children into the woods, and this alert seems to be about little more than fearmongering.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s office proudly proclaiming its county to be “clown free.” Not only was this untrue (several professional clowns live in the area), but it wrongly characterized clowns as something to be exterminated or driven out, like vermin.
It gets worse. The police chief of Paw Paw, West Virginia actually put up notices declaring that people going around dressed as clowns should expect to be beaten up. “If you run around in a clown suit, you should probably expect for citizens to beat you (for their own protection), then get arrested by the police,” the notice read. Whoa, isn’t that a hate crime?
First of all, it’s important to note that the actions of a few potentially malicious clowns have nothing to do with the many honest people who engage in professional clowning for a living. The serial killer John Wayne Gacy famously worked as a clown, but from that we cannot extrapolate that all clowns are evil and deserving of punishment. And while the West Virginia police may assert that it’s not normal for people to go around in clown makeup, it is actually pretty common for people who work in the industry, and certainly not something that merits a violent response.
Persecuting clowns in this way is no different than going after people for their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or skin color.
Clowns are also one of the few groups of people to have their own designated phobia: coulrophobia. And unlike homophobia, the fear of clowns is not considered a moral failing or a sign of bigotry by broader society. I’d say the deck is already pretty heavily stacked against clowns without police, who are supposed to serve and protect, egging people on.
In response to public perception, some performers are fighting back, going so far as to organize a “Clown Lives Matter” rally to protest their unfair treatment and characterization. The rally will take place in Tucson, Arizona on October 15 and feature members of the local clown community in full costume and makeup.
America was built on the promise of liberty and justice for all and equality before the law. We can’t go around assaulting or harassing people just because we don’t like the way they look. Persecuting clowns in this way is no different than going after people for their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or skin color.
It’s okay to be scared of clowns, but just remember that a person doesn’t forfeit their rights just because they put on a red nose and floppy shoes.
This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.