Sunday, April 19, 2009

criminalization of baggy pants

So I ran across this blog entry in the Criminal Justice section of and thought the issue related well to how we were talking about the absorbtion or criminalization of percieved threats. I don't know that these blog entries (the one I am posting and the two that it links to at the beginning) articluate exactly what the issue is. It seems that the notion is that the "clothing style" is being criminalized because people just don't like it. I think that a more accurate way to describe it would be to say that the actual pants styles aren't what people have a problem with, the individuals wearing them are. They are the threat that the system is having a hard time controlling. I don't think the pants styles being targeted because of taste. I think this goes beyond grown-ups "just not understanding" kids. The individuals who are part of that group that are being targeted because their social and cultural mores and behaviors are considered threatening. This isn't fashion police, it's what happens when the system can't control something so it has to criminalize it. Even though the music industry has capitalized on this group, it doesn't seem like they've been able to sterilize it and repackage the ideas coming from them...but they are still selling them, and now it's a bohemeth that scares the shit out of people in power.

Continue reading

The Racial Undertones of Baggy Pants Laws

PUBLISHED APRIL 14, 2009 @ 04:43PM PST

Two thoughtful posts yesterday - at Flawless Hustle and RaceWire - examine one of the newer additions to the criminalized-for-no-good-reason list: baggy pants.

Towns across the country have passed laws banning baggy pants, imposing fines and prison time on the offenders. In Pine Lawn, Missouri, the parents of young offenders could spend 90 days in jail. A proposed bill in Kentucky would fine offenders $1,000 for wearing pants below the waistline. These laws are misguided because they criminalize expression - anyone arguing that exposure of underwear is indecent exposure should work on amending indecent exposure laws rather than criminalizing a specific clothing style.

They're also wrong because they target an urban population and one that includes a large number of African-Americans. We tend to criminalize that which we don't understand, and we tend to make laws that increase contact between police and inner-city youth. Laws like this start the cycle that sucks too many people into a criminal justice system they don't need. A court date for baggy pants leads to a missed day at work and a continuance. Another court date, another missed day of work - or school. The case is finally wrapped up, with a fine and a brand new criminal record. A missed test or a lost job have serious consequences, and so does a record. Another infraction - maybe trespassing for hanging out a friend's public housing complex - and we have a repeat offender. It's no mystery how good people can get wrapped up in this system when we make laws like this.

Is it going to take a Supreme Court decision to end the baggy pants laws? Here's Michelle Chen at RaceWire:

"Grown-ups have been fretting about what kids are wearing for generations. In the 1960s, black armbands worn in protest of the Vietnam War were banned, ultimately leading to a landmark Supreme Court ruling. During the 1990s, courts ruled that some bans on provocatively worded T-shirts and other controversial fashion flunked the constitutional test because they didn’t serve a valid safety or disciplinary purpose."

And vadim at Flawless Hustle:

"I’ve been living in this country for a long time and this logic - X is distasteful to me, so let's throw people who use/show/wear X in jail - is intuitive to too many people. Lucky or us, we have the Constitution, and we have the first amendment, which clearly allows for Americans to exercise their Freedom of Expression to, for example, wear clothes others might find distasteful. And we have the eighth amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” i.e. jailing/fining citizens for wearing clothes others might find objectionable."

The more litigants challenge these laws on Constitutional grounds, and the more activist judges overrule narrow-minded legislators, the better.

Well said.

No comments: