By The Meridian Star
Kids who like to wear their pants down around their knees will soon have to either go shopping or put on a belt — at least, that’s what the city council hopes will be the result of a ban on baggy pants they passed at their meeting Tuesday night.
The council voted 4-1 to amend the indecent exposure ordinance to include saggy pants, a move that Police Chief Lee Shelbourn said will be “practically impossible to enforce.”
The newly amended ordinance states that people wearing their pants more than three inches below the “crest of the ilium,” also known as the hip, will be considered in violation of the indecent exposure ordinance.
Ward 1 Councilman Dr. George Thomas was the lone dissenter on the council.
“It’s not the government’s job to tell you how to dress,” he said. “Are the police going to measure from the ilium with a 1 inch ruler? Are we going to start regulating skirt length? I think it’s foolish.”
Council President Jesse E. Palmer, Sr. (Ward 4), who led the vote, has been complaining about saggy pants for years.
“We can’t say that we want to see that,” he said. “I don’t want to look at indecent. Senior citizens are complaining. And this wasn’t my idea — it started with parents complaining.”
Two citizens spoke up while the council debated the issue, both of which asked the council not to add saggy pants to the ordinance.
One, who didn’t identify herself, said, “I hate to see children wearing their pants like that, but I think we need to start first at home and talk to the parents, or go to the schools and talk to the principals, or start a group … You are asking for a lawsuit .That’s their right. It don’t look good. I can’t stand it. But they do have a right.”
The Rev. William Brown asked the council, “Let’s have a community meeting as it relates to dress.”
Palmer said the saggy pants trend is wrong partly because it started in prisons, and the amended ordinance stated that saggy pants contribute to theft.
“The young people can end all of this simply by covering up,” he said.
Shelbourn told the council that trying to enforce a ban on saggy pants would cause problems for the police department.
“There’s so much of this ordinance that’s left to interpretation,” he said, adding that the attempted enforcement of it could clog up the courts and create a load of paperwork for the police department.
“You’re going to have a major backlog of cases,” he said.
Palmer and other council members in favor of the ban initially wanted to specify that people wearing saggy pants be given community service instead of fined, but City Attorney Ronnie Walton said that punishments for indecent exposure are already specified and that it’s up to courts to decide how to carry them out.
It was also suggested that people wearing saggy pants not be arrested, but Shelbourn said they can’t be punished without first being arrested. “We can’t give them community service until they are convicted of a crime. We would have to arrest them,” he said.
Thomas agreed that the ban will be difficult or impossible to enforce, and said he didn’t think banning saggy pants would solve any problems.
“The schools thought making kids wear blue shirts would improve behavior and learning. Instead they find themselves with a lot of problems enforcing blue shirts,” he said. “I just think that we’re asking the police department to do something that you can’t enforce, or if you can enforce it, you’re going to need a lot bigger jail.”
Mayor Cheri Barry did not comment on the issue. If she chooses to veto the ban, the council could override the veto with another 4-1 vote.