Proposal would ban underwear-exposing pants
By DAVID PENDERED
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/22/07
Exposed boxer shorts and thongs would be illegal in any public place in Atlanta if the City Council approves a proposed amendment to the city's indecency laws.
The target is young men who wear their pants low off their hips to show off the two pairs of boxers they wear beneath their saggy pants, said Atlanta Councilman C.T. Martin, a college recruitment consultant who sponsored the ordinance. Saggy pants are an "epidemic" that are becoming a "major concern" in cities and states around the country, the ordinance reads.
"Little children see it and want to adopt it, thinking it's the in thing," Martin said Wednesday. "I don't want young people thinking that half-dressing is the way to go. I want them to think about their future."
Under the proposed ordinance, women also couldn't reveal the strap of a thong beneath their pants. Nor could they wear jogging bras in public or show off even a wisp of a bra strap, said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
The proposed ordinance states that "the indecent exposure of his or her undergarments" would be unlawful in a public place. It would go in the same portion of the city code that outlaws sex in public and the exposure or fondling of genitals and the breast of a woman. Martin said the penalty would be a fine in an amount to be determined.
Seagraves said any legislation that creates a dress code would not survive a court challenge. She said there's no way the law could be enforced in a nondiscriminatory way. She said it targets a cultural phenomenon that came out of the black youth culture.
"This is a racial profiling bill that promotes and establishes a framework for an additional type of racial profiling," Seagraves said.
Several cities have considered banning saggy pants but only one is known to have adopted a measure, Seagraves said. Delcambre, La., is the only city she knows of that passed such an ordinance. It carries a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail for exposing underwear in public, according to a description of it in Martin's proposed ordinance.
Makeda Johnson, an Atlanta mother of a 14-year-old daughter, said she's glad Martin introduced the proposal. She doesn't want to see a law against attire, but said she thinks teens are sending a message with a way of dressing that's based in jailhouse behavior.
Johnson said she understands the phenomenon of saggy pants started when prisoners' belts were taken off and the prisoners' pants drooped down. Once teens who'd been arrested were back on the street, they wore saggy pants to show the loss of a belt does not mean a loss of personal power. Other teens followed suit to show support, she said.
"Do I want them arrested for that? No. Do I want them harassed? No," she said. "But I salute [Martin] for having the courage to say we need to do something. Finally we've gone beyond saying, 'Pull up your pants,' to saying we need to bring a focus on the message our young people are sending."
Martin, who is African-American, said he intends to convene public hearings and vet the proposal through churches, civil rights groups and neighborhood organizations. The proposal will get its first public airing Aug. 28 in the City Council's Public Safety Committee.
"The purpose of the paper is to generate some conversation to see if we can find a solution," Martin said. "It will be like all the discussions we've had around the value of the hip-hop culture. We know there are First Amendment issues ... and some will say I'm just trying to put young black men in jail, but it's going to be fines."
Saramaat Johnson, the daughter of Makeda Johnson, said she thinks the whole question of exposing underwear as a fashion statement is a matter of taste. Sometimes it's good; sometimes it's not.
"It's something that can be done nicely, but other people can take it to the extreme and get ridiculous with it. And a lot of people are doing it."