St. Louis Saggy Pants Ban: Antonio French Slams Bill, Says Wrong To "Criminalize Fashion"

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Antonio French.
On Friday, St. Louis alderwoman Marlene Davis introduced a bill to ban saggy pants in the city that could potentially result in hefty fines and even jail time for offenders. Since news broke about her proposal, there has already been backlash, including from some of her colleagues who say it's an inappropriate law that would waste police resources -- and possibly be unconstitutional.

Daily RFT since had a chance to speak with alderman Antonio French, one of the critics who immediately tweeted his disdain for the idea.

"I understand where it's coming from. I also get annoyed or a little agitated when I see a young man looking very unpresentable with their pants...almost to their knees," French tells us. "But I don't think the answer is to criminalize that activity. I don't think it's appropriate to criminalize fashion."

See also:
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Some civil rights activists have argued that it is unconstitutional to pass a law that regulates how individuals dress and makes a certain style illegal.

As written, the bill says that prohibited "lewd" behavior includes:

Any person to appear in a public place wearing pants below the waist which exposes the skin or undergarments which is likely to cause affront or alarm...

French, who has been vocal about crime reduction efforts in the 21st ward, says that a bill like this would only further criminalize young, black men, who need support from the city -- not increased arrests.

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"Most people would agree this targets black males," he says. "When you already have a group of young men dealing with all kinds of issues in our city...repeatedly seeing examples of lack of support throughout our city...I don't think this is the way to go."

He continues, "It has a lot to do with generational conflict. It's nothing new.... I think that thirty years ago, older generations were not comfortable with younger people wearing longer hair or women not wearing bras."

He jokes that in this case the city could also call it "the plumber law," since in theory it could impact anyone whose pants sag too low.

French says that while a proposal like this aims to send a message, it could have very serious negative consequences.

"It is particularly the fines and the weight of the penalties that most people should be offended by," French says. "A 500-dollar fine for a young man or three months in jail because of their pants?"

As introduced, the bill stipulates that individuals caught violating the ban on saggy pants could be fined anywhere from 100 to 500 dollars and could face imprisonment for up to 90 days.

Plus, he says, "There are definitely some constitutional issues."

French also points to studies that show how police stop and search black men at disproportionately high rates in Missouri.

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"Now all of the sudden, it would make how I wear my pants probable cause?" he says.

French notes that the board of aldermen also just passed a law to reform marijuana criminalization in the city such that the most minor offenses will be treated like traffic tickets -- in an effort to save limited police resources.

"Now, we are raising the bar on saggy pants?" he says.

Most would probably agree that this is not the best use of law enforcement resources, French argues.

"Even people who feel strongly about this issue and are greatly offended by the way young people dress would also argue that this is in no way a top priority for the people in the city of St. Louis right now, especially the police department," French says.

Davis, the bill's proponent, did not respond to requests for comment from Daily RFT on Friday.

Here's the draf of the bill, with the sagging component in bold:

Board Bill 117

What do you think?

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.


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