The City Council in Columbus passed an ordinance this week banning sagging pants, the Clarion-Ledger reported. The ordinance is a revision to the city's current indecent exposure policy and carries a penalty between $75 and $250.
I will preface this by saying that I am personally annoyed, perplexed and slightly nauseated when I see someone wearing their pants around their thighs, waddling and holding onto their crotch to do the job a belt and hip bones are meant to do. I have a close friend who wears his pants like this. I give him a hard time about it on a regular basis, but I will defend his right to do so in the face of anyone who attempts to force him to conform to their tastes and opinions by use of force or threat of fine, arrest or violence.
City and county officials passing laws and ordinances against people sagging their pants is more mind boggling than sagging itself.
If the person sagging his or her pants is not wearing anything underneath those pants, than they are likely already in violation of almost every indecent exposure policy in the United States, and therefore can be fined or arrested without any new ordinances. If, however, they are wearing shorts or undergarments under their pants, as is usually the case, then they are not exposing anything. Undergarments should be worn under other clothes, but wearing them where they can be seen is not, or at least should not be, illegal.
Allowing certain elected officials to outlaw how and where we wear our pants is a slippery slope. It is not about indecent exposure. Nothing is being exposed in the vast majority of cases other than more clothing. It is a matter of citizens having the right to dress as they please, as an expression of themselves.
In the U.S., there is a precedence in the public's minds that "indecent exposure" refers to exposure of certain parts of the human body that we all understand are supposed to be covered when in public. It does not refer to the exposure of pieces of clothing. After all, doesn't a pair of boxers conceal what is underneath as well as a pair of swim trunks or running shorts, or even the pants themselves? And doesn't a pair of briefs or panties cover as much as a speedo?
If exposure of clothing can legally be called indecent exposure, where does it stop? Is a bra strap showing to the side of a dress strap indecent? Will it be illegal if the waistband of my boxers is above my belt?
And what about swimwear? Most bathing suits today, especially women's, cover the same or less than underwear, and it's worn without pants or shirts at all.
Hinds County Supervisor Kenneth Stokes tried to pass a similar ordinance in Jackson in 2009 when he was on the City Council and, according to WLBT reports, he will try at the county level Monday. Officials like Stokes will try to say that this is not a 1st Amendment issue, but 99 percent of the times, if a politician says his/her proposal is not a 1st Amendment issue, they are saying it precisely because it IS a 1st Amendment issue.
No body parts are being exposed. No one is put in harm's way because someone is sagging their pants, except maybe the sagger himself if he suddenly needs to run and has no time to pull up his pants.
It is a simple matter of a younger generation choosing to express themselves in a way that their parents' and grandparents' generations do not understand. Like Bible-thumping evangelicals trying everything they could to stop rock-n-roll in the 1960s and 70s, or the FCC trying to get Howard Stern off the air, this is a matter of free speech and agents of the government trying to squash speech they do not like.
If implemented, how will these ordinances be used by law enforcement? That question brings up another, even more troubling, note. This is a matter of ageism and racism. Speaking only from my own observations, it seems that in Mississippi the majority of people wearing their pants well below their hips are young African American males. As we should all well know, black males do not need another policy to aim law enforcement attention at them.
In the United States, black males have a 32.2 percent chance of going to prison in their lifetime, according to a 2001 study by the Department of Justice. That is almost twice as high as Hispanic men (17.2 percent) and far beyond the third-most incarcerated group, white men (5.9 percent).
Sagging pants, an already completely arbitrary idea, would without a doubt be used to profile young minority men for law enforcement searches, pat-downs, fines and arrests. Like disorderly conduct, a sagging pants ordinance could and would be used whenever another law violation has not been committed as an excuse to search "suspicious" individuals.
Just like identification laws in Alabama and Arizona, these sagging pants ordinances target certain, mostly minority, groups and expose them to unlawful and unwarranted violations of their privacy. It profiles certain individuals as criminals based only on their choice of dress and exposes them to unnecessary harassment.
Besides, do our law enforcement officers, who have a never-ending supply of murders, robberies, burglaries, thefts, rapes, assaults and automobile accidents to investigate, really need such a pointless, opinionated, racist and unconstitutional law to enforce?
Let's not let a few closed-minded elected officials enforce their skewed sense of fashion morality on the public with laws that will lead to appeals trials at the taxpayers' expense, racial profiling and police, judges and violators wasting countless hours that could be spent on furthering our society and bringing justice to actual criminals.