The local government of Hinds County, Mississippi, may force residents to pull their pants up in the hope of pulling the region up by its bootstraps.
In a hearing yesterday, county officials brought new legislation regarding sagging pants to the table in an effort to weed out what the ban’s supporters say is an “indecent” wardrobe choice that’s keeping the Jackson area youth out of work.
While the question of whether banning saggy pants will solve the Jackson area’s unemployment issues is still up for debate, the severity of area’s economic state is not. As of June, unemployment at Hinds County stands at 9.1 percent, with approximately 22.5 percent of residents living below the poverty line as of 2010.
The Hinds County saggy pants ban would make sagging one’s pants more than three inches below the hip or exposing underwear or skin in that area a misdemeanor. First-time offenders would only receive a warning; following the second offense, the offender must pay a $10 fine and complete two hours of community service. If the offender is a minor, the minor’s parents would also be fined.
Supporters of the ban, such as Supervisor Kenneth Stokes, say that outlawing sagging pants will help to adjust the culture of Hinds County. “Here in Mississippi, the majority of the elderly or the older people have a bad feeling about the sagging pants,” Stokes said. “When you have a person with sagging pants coming to a job interview, they have a worse chance than someone who comes to the interview with their pants not sagging.”
Representatives from the Mississippi chapter of ACLU have decried the proposed ordinance as particularly discriminatory against black males and an infringement on personal freedom of expression, according to ACLU representative Bear Atwood.
“The saggy pants ban would be unconstitutional,” she said. “Hinds County is a predominantly black county, Jackson is predominantly black, and our real concern is that this is, intentional or not, going to end up targeting black neighborhoods and, for kids who have done nothing other than wear their pants too low, brings them into contact with the police unnecessarily.”
Atwood said that while the county’s goals may be good, there are less controversial and more effective ways to raise kids’ self-esteem and instill in them the value of proper dress.
Other dissenters have focused their discontent on whether the legislation as it stands is effective.
Hinds County Supervisor Phil Fisher stated that he is opposed to the saggy pants ordinance “because it doesn’t offer an enforcement mechanism with any bite.”
Fisher referred to the legislation as a “feel-good measure” for the board and “a waste of time for law enforcement,” saying that “parents should raise their own children and not rely on law enforcement to raise them.”
“I don’t think you can legislate morality,” Fisher said. “You can’t legislate people’s behavior necessarily when it comes to dress.”
County deputies would be in charge of enforcing the ordinance, though Fisher says the lack of accountability in the current legislation makes it likely that the ban will go unnoticed. He advocates requiring monthly reports from law enforcement on the number of tickets issued, as well as higher penalties, with a $100 fine for a first offense.
Stokes said that banning sagging pants will help to discourage students from dropping out of high school, and also prepare them for employment later on. He also emphasized that the ban may not be universally applicable, but that it’s the right decision for Hinds County.
“What we’re saying here in Jackson, Mississippi, in Hinds County, may not fit in Atlanta,” he said. “We don’t have a whole lot of jobs here, and we have to be sure that our children qualify for the jobs that we do have.”
“Let’s stop sagging,” Stokes said. “Let’s get on the job.”
During Monday’s hearing on the proposal, dozens of protesters gathered in the Hinds County Chancery Court building in an effort to protect their rights to let their pants and skirts hang low.
The public’s interest in the saggy pants ban was not lost on Fisher. “You know, it’s just funny. We’ll talk about the budget or we’ll talk about the jail or some other, you know, issue that really impacts a lot of people or really means something, and nobody shows up,” he said. “It’s just funny what people pay attention to.”
The Hinds County board of supervisors will vote on the measure during its Aug. 20 meeting.