Chester Halloween

The City of Chester posted this ordinance on Facebook as a reminder that officials get to decide who can trick-or-treat and when, you know, because that’s fun.

Halloween is Oct. 31.

This truth is presented annually in the Index-Journal, generally a bit tongue-in-cheek, in a column by Chris Trainor because someone always asks when Greenwood has scheduled the annual observance, even though the Emerald City does not control the calendar. A few years ago, staff writer Damian Dominguez begrudgingly wrote a story about exactly that and was surprised at how much response he received.

As it turns out, another city has deemed itself the proclaimer of Halloween and when children are allowed to trick-or-treat. You know, because that’s fun.

That city is Chester.

Here’s the ordinance:

Sec. 38-15. — Halloween.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person over 12 years of age to participate in the act of “Trick or Treat” during the observance of Halloween, and all persons under said age shall be accompanied by a parent, or by a responsible person age 18 or older. All “Trick or Treat” activities shall end by 8:00 p.m. on the night designated for the observance of Halloween. Halloween will be observed on October 31 unless that date is on Sunday. In the event October 31 is a Sunday, Halloween will be observed on October 30. This Section shall not apply to organized and supervised Halloween parties.

(b) Responsible person shall include a guardian, grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, or cousin of the child engaging in “trick or treat” activities, or any other person 21 years or older, not deemed legally incapacitated, explicitly designated by a parent or guardian to accompany the child engaging in “trick or treat” activities.

The ordinance itself raises a lot of questions, aside from when someone actually becomes a responsible adult. How do you enforce the age provision? Do police shakedown suspected 13-year-olds for candy? If you toss eggs at a house, are you actually participating in “trick or treat” or is it exempt because it’s all trick? Are adults forbidden from handing out sweets as that is participating in “trick or treat”? Must you take back the candy bar given at 8:01 p.m. or risk aiding and abetting the illicit transport of confectionery bliss?

The city posted a reminder about the ordinance on its Facebook page, adding that “Mayor Wanda Stringfellow, City Council, and City Administrator Stephanie Jackson wish everyone a safe and happy Halloween.”

Surprising no one, the post was widely panned, with a number of residents questioning why this ordinance was so worthy of the Council’s time when the city has real problems that need solving. Someone posted the reminder to Reddit under the headline “Quickest way to announce you’re not running for reelection,” which was quickly upvoted.

Now, the law itself isn’t new and was put in place before the present Council was voted in. However, many of those questioning this ordinance pointed to this as a violation of the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and ascribe to a different measure of when you can trick-or-treat: If it’s Halloween and the porch light is on, mi candy es su candy. That’s how it should work.

There was a lot of pushback on the age provision as well. Now, I’m not for costumed college kids demanding handouts from unsuspecting strangers, but it hardly seems like something that government should be involved in. Several were chafed because restricting trick-or-treating to the 12-and-under crowd excludes those with a mental or intellectual disability, another fair point.

So far, the city has not responded to the voluminous online criticism, though it seems unlikely the law could really be enforced. Aside from lacking any enforcement mechanism in the law itself, imagine when the local paper had to write that cops confiscated Halloween hauls after trick-or-treaters stayed out 10 minutes too late or were three days past the legal limit.

It’s not the only odd law on the books in Chester. In an ordinance on “Amusements” that regulates dance halls and gambling is this nugget: “It shall be unlawful for any minor under the age of 18 years to play or operate a pinball machine, or for the operator of a pinball machine to permit a minor to do so.”

Say what now?

Perhaps a “pinball machine” is something nefarious in the place best known for Aaron Burr’s failed escape attempt ahead of his trial for treason. It doesn’t take a wizard, however, to figure out that this wording prohibits what is generally a harmless activity.

If you’re wondering how Chester came up with a law, it seems to have a basis in state law:

SECTION 63-19-2430. Playing pinball.

It is unlawful for a minor under the age of eighteen to play a pinball machine.

That law, by the way, has been upheld by state courts.

I scoured Greenwood’s laws and could find no prohibition of arcade games or Halloween-related activities, for which we should all be thankful.

There is an ordinance prohibiting mask-wearing in public, but that closely follows the wording of a state law and is meant to curtail Klan activity. It even has an exemption that seems to allow scary getups on Oct. 31, unless you’re Executive Editor Richard Whiting and see Halloween as something other than a holiday.

If you’re interested, here’s that law:

Sec. 28-41. — Wearing masks.

(a) Prohibited. No person over 16 years of age shall appear or enter upon any lane, walk, alley, street, road, public way or highway or upon city public property while wearing a mask or other device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person demand entrance or admission to or enter upon the premises or into the enclosure or house of any other person while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person, while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity, participate in any meeting or demonstration upon the private property of another unless he shall have first obtained the written permission of the owner and the occupant of such property

(b) Exceptions. The provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall not affect the following:

(1) Any person wearing a traditional holiday costume;

(2) Any person engaged in a trade or employment in which a mask is worn for the purpose of ensuring the physical safety of the wearer or because of the nature of the occupation, trade or profession;

(3) Any person using a mask in a theatrical production or masquerade ball; or

(4) Any person wearing a gas mask prescribed in a civil defense drill or exercise or in an emergency.

Contact Assistant Editor Matthew Hensley at 864-943-2529 or mhensley@indexjournal.com, or follow him on Twitter @IJMattHensley. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.