For some, it pays to look stupid. For others, apparently it costs.
Last year, the Village imposed a new ordinance that “prohibits wearing pants in a fashion that exposes the individual’s undergarments or buttocks by determining that such behavior is an act of disorderly conduct.” Penalties of “not less than $25 on the first offense; not less than $100 on the second offense; and not less than $250 for each subsequent offense will be imposed. In addition to the civil penalties, the court may order violators to participate in up to 40 hours of court-approved community service.” Moreover, the parents or legal guardians of those violators who are younger than 18 years old will themselves be violated with the fines. According to police chief Tim Curry, the saggy pants trend “is associated with drug and gang activity.”
Heads up—so is being young, bored, male, apathetic, poor and black. So is being white for that matter (Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow first turned my attention to the fact that drug use is more prevalent among whites than blacks, despite the fact that blacks are much likelier to go to prison because of it). So are tattoos. So is walking a certain way and talking a certain lingo and living in a certain place. This just in, the American Dental Association may have concluded that bad teeth are associated with excessive crack use. I hear that running wearing a hoodie and jeans down Madison Street at night is associated with all kinds of deviancy.
I have some questions for the Village regarding this ordinance. One, is there any kind of empirical evidence suggesting this kind of ordinance will deter drug and gang activity? Is there any sound proof that the ordinance has worked as deterrence in Maywood since its enactment? Just how strongly do saggy pants correlate with drug and gang activity? And if such a strong correlation between the two behaviors does exist, why get rid of it? I say if sagging is such a strong indicator that someone is likely to be a drug dealer or gangster, then let the drug dealers and gangsters sag to their hearts’ content–the easier it is to identify them and make arrests.
How do citizens know that this recent power accorded to police won’t be used for such malicious designs as trying to supplement the Village’s meager, yet diminishing budget? How do citizens know that they’re protected from pressure put on certain agencies to ‘raise revenue’ by all means, even if they have to ramp up the enforcement of all kinds of fines and penalties, those given out for saggy pants included? This is far from conspiratorial thinking. If municipalities across the country have turned to parking and traffic tickets to slyly raise revenues, what exempts Maywood from indulging in the same ‘fundraising’ by other means?
If the point is to deter much more minor nuisances to the public, such as indecent exposure, aren’t there ordinances already in existence for dealing with this type of behavior? Instead of penalizing behavior so loosely associated with drug and gang activity (and essentially criminalizing the benign, albeit silly, behavior of the majority of people who engage in it in order to deter the deviant behavior of a minority), why not focus on enforcing penalties on behaviors that are much more indicative of drug and gang activity, such as loitering in front of known drug-ridden properties?
What measures will the village take to ensure that this won’t be yet another legal weapon in an already large arsenal those in positions of power can use against others at their personal discretion? (I can imagine the headline: “Mr. Y, seeking to oppose Mayor B in upcoming election, hit with $50 civil penalty for sagging pants as he was getting out of his car.” And the headline a month later: “Mr. Y no longer on ballot because of $50 fine owed to Village” And the word on the street: Mr. C was given $50 to challenge Mr. Y at local electoral board hearing).
In the absence of sufficient evidence that this ordinance does anything to deter gang and drug activity, won’t putting time and energy into its enforcement simply drain resources from much more effective means of deterrence?
And if the ordinance is just a ‘benign’ way to try to get kids (and a few adults) to pull their pants up, aren’t there more imaginative and productive ways to go about it? Besides, there’s no consolation in knowing that the drug dealers and gangsters that are terrorizing your town are doing so in pants that sit perfectly at the waist.
Oh, one last question: If Justin Bieber is ever caught walking through Maywood, will the police cite him?
“I’m like my mother, I stereotype. It’s faster.”