Saggy pants not outlawed in the city, but schools ban them

A reader posted a “You Asked” question on The Daily Leader Facebook asking about a sagging pants ordinance in the city.

The controversial style of sagging pants involving the pants hanging below the waist, exposing a young man’s or woman’s underwear, is still a somewhat popular look.

The original style originated in prisons, where men were not allowed to wear belts. The fashion was brought to the forefront in the 1990s by hip-hop and rap artists and then picked up by skateboarders shortly after. Like mullets, jean shorts and jeggins, the low ridding look has yet to go out of style for some.

Several municipalities in Mississippi have banned sagging pants over the years, including Tunica, Kosciusko, Fulton and Gloster, citing the look as obscene. However, there is no city ordinance against sagging pants in Brookhaven.

Brookhaven Alderman Terry Bates, who has served on the board for many years, said the issue was discussed several years ago but no action was taken.

“If we could find a way to pass an ordinance that would be solid, I’d be for it, for the respect of the young man and respect of the citizens,” said Bates. He added that he would probably be bringing it up at future board meetings.

“It’s not as popular as it was. Maybe 10 out of every 200 young men are doing it. You can’t blame the 200,” said Bates.

Last time the board discussed instituting a sagging pants ban, Bates said that taking everything into account, there was no good solution to the problem. There were questions about enforcement of the ordinance. He cited the fact that it the young men who have sagging pants are fined, the money is coming out of the parents’ pockets, not theirs.

“If we do it, it is going to take the public, businesses, schools, churches and parents helping to enforce it,” said Bates.

Both Brookhaven and Lincoln County school districts have taken a stand against the low riders and have banned sagging pants in the classrooms.

The Lincoln County student handbook states that pants with holes and saggy pants are not permitted. Lincoln County Assistant Superintendent Letha Presley said the look is obscene and some of the classrooms even have belts in case a student shows up with sagging pants.

The Brookhaven student handbook states that all pants must be securely fastened around the waist and undergarments must not be visible and baggy and saggy pants are not allowed.

“We want our students to look like young ladies and young gentleman, and we feel this is the best way to teach them,” said Brookhaven Superintendent Ben Cox.

On the other hand, some see a sagging pants ban as a violation of the first amendment right to freedom of expression.

When Hinds County attempted to pass a ban on sagging pants in 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union in Mississippi began protesting the ordinance. Leaders of the group argued that a governing body does not have the authority according to the constitution to ban people from wearing clothing others do not like. Style is a form of self-expression, the group argued. They also argued the ban could lead to racial profiling and targeting of certain neighborhoods.

Although the first amendment does protect the freedom of expression, obscenity is also not protected by the First Amendment as defined in Miller vs. California. To be obscene means the average person with contemporary community standards finds it obscene, it depicts or describes blatantly offensive sexual conduct and/or the work as a whole lacks any serious artistic, literary, political or scientific value.

“I know many well educated young men who can handle themselves book-wise, but are getting turned away from jobs because of their appearance,” said Bates.

“(An ordinance against sagging pants) would help the pride of that young man,” Bates said.

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