A mostly white Tennessee town is working to ban baggy pants as indecent.
The City Council in Pikeville, which is nearly 94 percent white, unanimously approved a first reading of the ordinance May 12 that would define how low pants could sit on the waist and impose fines against offenders.
The city charter requires three readings of an ordinance before it passes, and Mayor Phil Cagle told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that it would likely take a couple of months before the law went into effect.
State law already prohibits public indecency, but Pikeville’s ordinance would specifically ban the wearing of pants that were “more than three inches below the top of the hips (crest of the ilium).”
According to the ordinance, city officials find “the exposure of a person’s buttocks and genital area or undergarments is offensive and indecent.”
“Myself and the City Council, we wanted an ordinance passed in black and white that our officers know what to tolerate and what not to tolerate,” Cagle said. “Now they know what we expect, and they know how to handle it.”
Laws with nearly identical wording have been passed in several towns in Georgia and Mississippi, and Alabama lawmakers passed a bill in 2012 that applied only to Montgomery County, which is more than 55 percent black and 40 percent white.
Alabama as a whole is 70 percent white and more than 26 percent black.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, just 45 of Pikeville’s 1,608 residents are black – or 2.8 percent.
“All I know is we just don’t want them running around half naked on our streets,” Cagle said. “That’s the bottom line.”
The origins of sagging – wearing the waistband of pants below the hips – are unclear, but the style became a mainstream trend among teenagers in the 1990s after it was adopted by a variety of hip hop performers.
The style persists among black and white youth, who keep their pants from falling down entirely by constantly hitching them up.
“There is evidence that indicates that wearing sagging pants is injurious to the health of the wearer as it causes improper gait,” the ordinance warns.
Under the ordinance, offenders would be fined “not less than” $25 for a first offense and “not more than” $50 for subsequent offenses.
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