Bans on baggy pants too little, too late - and too silly

September 07, 2007|By Clarence Page

Back in the 1970s, there was an offbeat theory going around that the high-heeled platform shoes that were all the rage were the result of a secret police plot. They made runaway bad guys easier to catch.

Against that backdrop, I was amused to see a recent upsurge in crackdowns by cities, towns and school districts this summer against young folks who wear their baggy pants low enough to reveal more than most of us want to see of their undershorts or thongs.

Why, I wonder, do lawmakers and educators want to penalize young people for wearing a fashion that makes it harder for them to run from police?

That's precisely what Atlanta City Councilman C. T. Martin proposes with an ordinance to illegalize the wearing of baggy pants that show one's undershorts, the Associated Press reported. Louisiana towns, including Shreveport, Alexandria and Delcambre, have passed similar laws. Delcambre's "anti-sag ordinance" calls for up to a $500 fine and up to six months of jail time for low-riders low enough to expose, as Mayor Carol Broussard was quoted as explaining, "some of your privates" or "the crack of your behind." Plumbers and refrigerator installers, take note.

Similar baggy pants bans have been passed in some California school districts. Trenton, N.J., has considered a ban, the Trenton Times reports, but Stratford, Conn., turned thumbs down on a dress code ordinance as possibly unconstitutional.

I have other reasons to offer. For starters, it's ridiculous.

Police have more important crimes to chase, whether the culprit is wearing baggy pants or not. Baggy pants are only an annoying symbol of a larger social headache: the crime and other cultural rot that ultimately degrade society and make life miserable for everyone.

With that in mind, it is important to note that not all kids who wear baggy pants are trying to be criminals. Many just want to present their youthful, in-your-face version of cool. But throwing them into the criminal justice system is one way to grease the slide of their lives in the wrong direction.

The most robust enlistment and training of youngsters into the criminal underworld occur behind bars. Many a hardened criminal began as an at-risk kid with overwhelmed or incompetent parents who was thrown into a "juvie" detention facility for a minor offense.

That's another irony, since baggy pants originated as a style of convenience and necessity in prison. Long before they made it to the street, baggies were a badge of honorable dishonor in the criminal underclass.

But since fashion doesn't stand still for long, even with its pants spilling over its ankles, baggy pants ordinances offer too little, too late. The saggy baggies already are beginning to fade from the fashion scene, according to youth fashion mavens such as my teenage son, an inveterate coolness-hunter. The rise of thoughtful and less "gangsta-style" rappers such as Kanye West, Common and Talib Kweli may have something to do with that. Or maybe young folks are just getting tired of having to walk around with one hand always holding their pants up.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is cptime@aol.com.

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