TRENTON, N.J. — It's a fashion that started in prison, and now the saggy pants craze has come full circle — low-slung street strutting in some cities may soon mean run-ins with the law, including a stint in jail.
Proposals to ban saggy pants are starting to ride up in several places. At the extreme end, wearing pants low enough to show boxers or bare buttocks in one small Louisiana town means six months in jail and a $500 fine. A crackdown also is being pushed in Atlanta. And in Trenton, getting caught with your pants down may soon result in not only a fine, but a city worker assessing where your life is headed.
"Are they employed? Do they have a high school diploma? It's a wonderful way to redirect at that point," said Trenton Councilwoman Annette Lartigue, who is drafting a law to outlaw saggy pants. "The message is clear: We don't want to see your backside."
The bare-your-britches fashion is believed to have started in prisons, where inmates aren't given belts with their baggy uniform pants to prevent hangings and beatings. By the late ’80s, the trend had made it to gangster rap videos, then went on to skateboarders in the suburbs and high school hallways.
"For young people, it's a form of rebellion and identity," Adrian "Easy A.D." Harris, 43, a founding member of the Bronx's legendary rap group Cold Crush Brothers. "The young people think it's fashionable. They don't think it's negative."
But for those who want to stop them see it as an indecent, sloppy trend that is a bad influence on children.
"It has the potential to catch on with elementary school kids, and we want to stop it before it gets there," said C.T. Martin, an Atlanta councilman. "Teachers have raised questions about what a distraction it is."
In Atlanta, a law has been introduced to ban sagging and punishment could include small fines or community work — but no jail time, Martin said.
The penalty is stiffer in Delcambre, La., where in June the town council passed an ordinance that carries a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail for exposing underwear in public. Several other municipalities and parish governments in Louisiana have enacted similar laws in recent months.
At Trenton hip-hop clothing store Razor Sharp Clothing Shop 4 Ballers, shopper Mark Wise, 30, said his jeans sag for practical reasons.
"The reason I don't wear tight pants is because it's easier to get money out of my pocket this way," Wise said. "It's just more comfortable."
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Shop owner Mack Murray said Trenton's proposed ordinance unfairly targets blacks.
"Are they going to go after construction workers and plumbers, because their pants sag, too?" Murray asked. "They're stereotyping us."
The American Civil Liberties Union agrees.
"In Atlanta, we see this as racial profiling," said Benetta Standly, statewide organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. "It's going to target African-American male youths. There's a fear with people associating the way you dress with crimes being committed."
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