Sagging concern for council

Published 11:46 pm Monday, December 6, 2010

Pants worn slightly above-to-mid-buttocks and below may become a fineable offense in Selma.

The Selma City Council Public Safety Committee will consider an ordinance today at its 5 p.m. meeting.

“I think a lot of people are fed up with the exposure of the behind or the buttocks,” Selma city attorney Jimmy Nunn said as he discussed the proposed ordinance at a recent work session.

Email newsletter signup

The attire has become so popular, some clothing makers have sewn in boxer shorts to pants to give the desired sag look, Nunn explained.

The council is considering the ordinance at the request of Fourth Judicial District Attorney Michael Jackson through Selma Mayor George Evans.

Recently, Jackson told the mayor and others he has received many calls as to youths who wear their pants well below the waist, exposing their underwear.

Ward 1 Councilman Tommy Atchison explained the district attorney said his gang task force has seen a trend where gang members wear the colors identifying their association under their clothing. They wear sagging pants to flash those colors. Flashing colors to rival gangs causes conflict.

Because of the request, Nunn drafted an ordinance from others passed by municipalities in Alabama. In particular, Nunn used a draft of Demopolis’ ordinance to create the one for Selma.

The Selma Times-Journal called Nunn’s office twice Monday and requested a copy of the ordinance, but Nunn did not return the telephone call.

The Demopolis ordinance furnished Monday by the city clerk’s office says pants worn by any person, regardless of age, in public should not fall more than three inches below the hips.

If a juvenile is in violation of the ordinance, the parent or legal guardian will be cited and subject to a fine of a minimum of $25 and a maximum of $100 for each offense. The court cost will be waived, but the court may also order the adult or juvenile to participate in 10 to 20 hours of court-approved community service.

If an adult is in violation of the ordinance, that person should receive a citation and could face a minimum fine of $25 and a maximum fine of $200 for each offense. The court cost will be waived, but the court could order the person found guilty to 10-40 hours of court-approved community service.

The ordinance specifies that a citation for violating the sagging pants ordinance is not a criminal offense, so there’s no arrest or imprisonment for violation.

The Demopolis ordinance became effective Dec. 1, 2009.

A spokeswoman at the municipal court in Demopolis said they had seen some cases in the last year, but did not know how many fines had been paid.

“I just think it’s indecent and I think though some may say it’s an expression I think it is indicative of an individual’s self pride and self esteem,” Selma city councilwoman Dr. Monica Newton of Ward 3 said during the work session. “Young people need role models that are going to help them succeed lead. That expression artistic and whatever you might say about underwear being exposed is not decent and is counterproductive to what a young person should want to be unless they want to be a rap star.”

On Monday, Newton said she had, “pretty well said what I thought about it in the work session.” Newton is chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee.

The vice chairwoman, councilwoman Angela Benjamin of Ward 4, said she is uncertain about the ordinance. She has questions. For instance, how will police measure the three inches?

“It’s the enforcement part I’m concerned about,” Benjamin said.

Nunn has raised another issue. The American Civil Liberties Union has frowned on the ordinance at least in Louisiana.

“They come out against it because they feel like it’s a freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment,” he said. “They come against it, and they may come to Selma.”

In September the ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter to all members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Council, urging them to reject a proposed resolution concerning saggy pants.

The letter says any focus on sagging pants targets young African-American men without any evidence of harm caused by that particular clothing style.

The executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, Marjorie R. Esman, said, “while some members of the community may not like particular clothing choices, they must recognize that if the government can affect the height of someone’s waistband, it can control other aspects of dress and personal appearance. Choice of clothing is a personal one and one in which the government has no place.”