Earlier this month Flint Police Chief David Dicks enacted a policy giving police the power to site wearers of saggy pants with public indecency. Since then, the ACLU has threatened action against the FPD and is currently looking for a case to bring forward. I, for one, am glad that the ACLU is standing up for our right to choose our own clothing. Here are a couple of points about this issue:
- The policy declares that wearing pants below the waist is indecent and thus violates Flint’s disorderly conduct ordinance. While I could understand if the person’s butt/privates were completely exposed, the policy makes no exceptions. So if the pants are sagging, even if underwear, shirts, belts, or what-have-you completely covers all skin, the accused are still liable to searches, fines (up to a $1,000 dollars), and even jail time.
- The law also would effect the African American population more than any other populace. I do not mean to claim that black people wear saggy pants, but there is no disputing that the style originated (and is probably most common) within segments of the African American population. Furthermore, I do not claim that Police Chief Dicks (a black man) is singling them out. But America (a country that likes to pride itself on its commitment to equality and freedom) should look wearily on any law that directly effects one race more than the others.
- Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, spoke on U of M’s campus last year about the 1st Amendment. Although she did not directly speak about sagging pants, I believe much of what she said directly applies. Her main point (and I’m paraphrasing) was that we all have our opinions about where to draw the line for free expression. But the point of the 1st Amendment is to protect what is on the other side of the line. So although many people may hate and dislike the look/culture of saggy pants, that is exactly what the 1st Amendment seeks to protect.
- I remember having a conversation with my 9th grade English teacher once. She was talking about the need for school uniforms and when some students asked if dress codes violated their free speech she responded by claiming that “clothes aren’t any expression of free speech. They’re just clothes.” While not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, clothes ARE an expression of identity. And any law that seeks to prohibit that expression IS unconstitutional.
My complaints with the policy boil down to the harm that saggy pants supposedly create. What causes more harm to a community: saggy pants that expose underwear? or a law that limits the expression of citizens and targets one of the most economically depressed communities in America with fines and jail time? I, for one, hope that the ACLU can find someone willing to bring a suit. Then Police Chief Dicks and his supporters can be exposed for what they are… and thats tonight’s word.