Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she’s tired of the “unfortunate trend” of saggy pants on young men and women out in public in her ward and other parts of the city, and if she has her way, the look could soon be banned.
Mitts, whose ward encompasses parts of Austin, Garfield Park and other West Side neighborhoods, introduced a resolution at last week’s Chicago City Council meeting that, if approved, would prohibit Chicagoans from wearing droopy pants – defined as three inches below the hip – in public and in the city’s schools.
The trend of sagging pants with undergarments exposed is associated with negative stereotypes targeted at people of color, and that can bar young people who wear the look from obtaining a job, Mitts said.
“As summer is around the corner and the end of the school year approaches, more young people will be on the streets in various communities of Chicago, and it would be refreshing to see more appropriately dressed youth ready to secure a job, further their education or enjoy the best of the city,” Mitts said in a written statement.
Saggy pants are also associated with gang-activity and other negative influences that impact street and school violence, she said, but not everyone agrees violence is a pants problem.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said it’s a misguided notion to link problems in a community to the way people dress.
Yohnka said the resolution is “overreaching.”
Everyone has the right to express themselves, and often times the way people do that is by a particular clothing style, he said.
“When the government begins to single out one of those things as a means to subject people to a criminal penalty, that’s never a good thing,” Yohnka said.
The resolution would complement the city’s indecent exposure ordinance. Mitts said she wants “folks to exhibit some social manners, basic common sense and overall respect for other people.”
“Today, the wrong attire can cause you a lot of grief if you run across others who don’t like what you have on,” Mitts said. “It can also cost you even more than that – far too many young people have lost their lives because of the wrong color, tilt of a hat or slope of the baggy pants.”
Other governing bodies in Illinois and the U.S. are also enacting, or at least considering, some type of “saggy pants” laws or bans, including Detroit and Atlanta, Mitts said.
In Illinois, Evanston, Lynwood and Sauk Village have also brought up the issue.
James Leahy, executive director of the Illinois Principals Association, said although he’s not familiar with all the components of the resolution, it’s important students come to school dressed appropriately and in a way that doesn’t impact learning.
But determining what’s appropriate or not to wear at school can be difficult, he said.
“It’s a challenge,” Leahy said. “I sure respect the intent and effort to form an opinion on whether it’s appropriate or not.”
He said school is a place where kids come every day, and it has to be like a second home and a place where children learn how to be effective citizens and what’s appropriate in public and the workplace.
This resolution could be “a good thing” if the desire is to help create a more positive culture and climate in schools, Leahy said.
The proposed ordinance now goes to the council’s education committee where hearings regarding the resolution will be held. It’s not yet clear when the hearings will take place.
Mitts said she hopes as a result of the hearings, the city council “will seek to craft an initiative that would ban the wearing of saggy, baggy pants in public places.”
ACLU’s Yohnka is worried this measure would create another reason for city police to target young, black men.
“You have this circumstance where people are effectively creating a new reason for police to interact with people,” he said. “In this case, targeted at people who are young and people of color.”
He wonders how police would know whether someone’s pants were three inches below the hip.
“From a police car, from the street, how do you know if its three inches or two and a half?” he said. “You’re going to get out and go over and have a conversation, and that may include searching.”
It’s an invitation for further intrusion and police interaction of people of color.
“It just really isn’t appropriate or necessary,” Yohnka said.