Is ‘saggy pants’ law hitting below the belt?
By now, you’ve heard of Councilwoman LeVette Fuller’s efforts to end the 2007 city ordinance that prohibits wearing pants below the waist in Shreveport. From the Washington Post to the New York Post, and nearly every national news network, from ABC to CNN, there’s little chance that millions more have not also heard the same surrounding the upcoming Shreveport City Council vote on this matter.
Some say their support of the “saggy pants” law is simple: They’re just tired of looking at young men’s underwear, and it’s disrespectful. They say such dress is an embrace of gang and prison culture. As a police officer in Los Angeles explained the issue, “Kids today are dressing for death.”
For others, the issue of the “saggy pants” law is its constitutionality – and yes, there are countless U.S. Supreme Court cases that have concluded such laws are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Even so, this hasn’t stopped some Louisiana cities from passing such ordinances, including Alexandria, Eunice, Delcambre, Mansfield, plus
Lafourche, Point Coupee, Terrebonne, Caddo and Jefferson Davis parishes. There was a “saggy pants” bill proposed in the Louisiana state legislature, back in 2010, but it only got about “waist high” before the legislation was killed in committee.
Then there are others who point out how “saggy pants” laws are unfair to African- Americans. They claim the “droopy drawers” style is more often associated with African-Americans, and such laws are politically insensitive – putting young black men (and sometimes women) into unnecessary contact with the criminal justice system.
Mayor Adrian Perkins, who supports repealing the “saggy pants” ordinance (which was passed in 2007), agrees with the idea that the “saggy pants” law targets blacks. He likens “saggy pants” laws to the “war on drugs that we now realize are discriminating against people of color …” But not everyone sees it that way. When Terrebonne Parish passed its “saggy pants” ordinance, their local NAACP chapter supported the measure, saying, “There is nothing positive about people wearing saggy pants. This is not a black issue, this is not a white issue, this is a people issue.”
President Barack Obama has even weighed in on the subject: “Here’s my attitude: I think passing a law about people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time,” and he added, “brothers should pull up their pants. There are some issues that we face that you don’t have to pass a law [against], but that doesn’t mean folks can’t have some sense and some respect for other people. And, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear — I’m one of them.”
So whether the issue for you is racism, or respect for other people, or the Constitution (or some combination of them all), I think at the heart of why folks have such an emotional interest in this subject is more fundamental to our need to simply understand the “why.”
Many simply don’t understand why perfectly healthy, grown men, who could afford to buy a belt (and pants that fit), would waddle along the street, or down the grocery store aisle, with their pants sitting mid-thigh, giving us all a glimpse of their derriere or colorful underwear. Why would anyone want to look like he wore the wrong-sized pants – on purpose? What if there was a fire, and they had to run out of a burning building with their pants around their knees? Or to catch a plane? Or to save someone who was drowning?
I mean, it just looks like something is incomplete, like they are not done pulling their pants all the way up – or down. And our brains are wired to desire completed tasks – that’s why we like so much to cross off items on our “to do” lists (and why we like pulling up our pants as well).
No, it’s not appropriate for government to ban droopy drawers, in my opinion – unless, while we’re at it, you want to also ban bare midriffs, and all of those uncovered biker-short wearers – I mean, who wants to see all that? And what about cock-eyed hats?
It’s often said that “a confused mind always says no,” and perhaps that’s the real root of the “hubbub” surrounding the droopy drawers debate … and why so many, including African-Americans, were in favor of passing the law in 2007 in the first place. But it’s not government’s place to say “no” here – that should have been said a long time … at home.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.