Austin alderman says pull up your pants

Mitts' ordinance concerning saggy pants could lead to ban

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By LA RISA LYNCH

Updated 5/17/12 3:25 p.m.

South suburban Lynwood did it. Sauk Village did it too. Evanston attempted to do it. So will Chicago be the next city to legislate the controversial fashion trend of sagging pants?

One West Side alderman, at least, wants to get the conversation started. on whether to ban sagging pants worn by most inner-city youths. Ald. Emma Mitts introduced a resolution in City Council on May 9 to hold public hearings in the council's education committee on the topic of disciplining those wearing saggy pants, although no date has been set yet.

Mitts wants to amend the city's indecent exposure ordinance to include the low-slung pants often held up by a belt around men's buttocks. Mitts said she, like most people, is tired of seeing young men revealing too much of their underwear in stores and on the streets.

"I'm just not used to looking at folks' underwear," Mitts said. "It just don't look decent. They call it underwear not outerwear. That's what they make them for, so you can have something under your clothes."

Under Mitts' proposed ordinance, individuals caught wearing pants more than three inches below the hips in public and in Chicago schools would be disciplined or fined, but would not face criminal charges.

Mitts said the law aims to address the social impact of saggy pants, but in the future it could be turned into an ordinance banning wearing saggy pants in public.

Other states like Georgia and Louisiana have enacted or have at least considered saggy-pants laws or bans. In Tennessee, students are prohibited from wearing saggy pants or other indecent clothing on school grounds.

"I've been watching and following some other laws in other states, and I think that Chicago shouldn't be excluded in this conversation," Mitts said.

She admitted that this conversation will "aggravate lot of people" who would argue it is their right to wear what they want to wear.

"But what about my right not to see it," Mitts said.

When asked about discrimination concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union, Mitts said she was more concerned about the negative stereotypes the saggy pants have on youth. The ACLU contends that saggy pants laws unfairly targets black and minority youths.

Sagging pants gives a presumption that youths may be associated with gangs, Mitts said, noting the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

"We don't want to have people put something on our kids that is not true," she said, adding that wearing saggy pants doesn't instill dignity, pride and self respect in young people.

Community activist Fred Mitchell challenged elected officials to address saggy pants in a September 2011 post on social media site Everyblock. Mitchell said he is glad Mitts is getting the ball rolling.

"That's a good thing if she wants to introduce it, and if she could get the support from other aldermen," said Mitchell, founder and president of Empower Citizens of North Lawndale.

Suburban crackdown

Several suburban municipalities have already enacted saggy-pants laws. The village of Lynwood has had its saggy-pants law for more than three years, unanimously enacted in 2008. Sauk Village followed suit in March 2011. North suburban Evanston broached the issue in 2010, but no ordinance was passed.

Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams also believed that the sagging-pants fashion craze is inappropriate attire. Lynwood levels a $25 fine for the first offense on individuals whose pants fall three inches below the waist to expose undergarments.

The ordinance, he said, is not about punishing kids, but seizing an opportunity to tell them why wearing saggy pants is wrong and doesn't reflect the values fought for during the Civil Rights Movement.

Youths often emulate bad behavior to "thumb their noses at society, but they are thumbing their noses in a way that hurts them," he said.

Wearing saggy pants can prevent youths from getting jobs and perpetuates negative stereotypes.

Since the law's passage, youths are, in fact, thankful for it, Williams added. He said kids are peer pressured into wearing saggy pants to fit in. The law removes that burden.

"Kids were waiting for adults to say something to take the pressure off of them," Williams said.

Passing a similar ordinance in Chicago could be tricky, added Sauk Village Trustee Ed Meyers. Initially the village's saggy pants ordinance encountered some resistance from a few residents, but garnering support in a small town is easier than persuading a large city, Meyers said. He said 90 percent of parents favor the law.

"Chicago is a very large city, and it will take a while before it completely flows through the city," Meyers said. For the ordinance to work in Chicago, he noted, the police department must be supported "100 percent."

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