When the windows on the white SUV sitting in front of Opa-locka’s police station rolled down, Charles Clark grabbed his belt.
Clark, 22, sags his pants. They sit a wallet’s length below his 32-inch waist, exposing plaid boxers. The Opa-locka City Commission last week made the first step to ban his street style — and he didn’t want to take any chances.
”This law is stupid,” said Clark, relieved that the people in the SUV were journalists, not cops. “Usually old folks ask me to pull up my pants, and I do to respect them. But when I walk away, they go back down. It’s how I feel comfortable.”
Clark’s city is on its way to becoming among the first in a nationwide movement to curb youth from being too small for their britches.
Supporters of the ban say they are making more than a fashion statement. They are trying to re-create a time when a village raised a child. They say they are attempting to help a troubled generation they think has been led astray, enticed by hip-hop culture and the glamorization of thuggery.
”Instead of getting their education, these kids are picking up a style that came from prisons,” said City Commissioner Timothy Holmes, the law’s sponsor. “And if they keep it up, although I’d hope not, two-thirds of these people with the pants below their butt will end up in prison.”
Some youths say it only means that older people just don’t understand youth culture. The American Civil Liberties Union has backed them up, arguing underwear bans limit freedom of expression and will unfairly target blacks.
Holmes’ proposal in this majority black city of about 15,000 is largely symbolic. There are no fines or fees. If a person is caught ”exposing undergarments” on public property — including City Hall and any city parks — they will be asked to pull up their pants. Refusal warrants removal from the space.
Compared with other cities, Holmes’ version is mild. Sagging pants in some towns in Louisiana can result in a $500 fine. If legislation is passed in Atlanta, violators could be sentenced to mandatory community service. A version of the proposed law in Trenton, N.J., might lead to life counseling to uplift the droopy-jeaned.
Opa-locka’s Clark said he needs no uplift. He likes what he sees in the mirror: Five of his front teeth covered in gold; his moniker ”Blaze” stripped across his neck; his right arm tattooed with Bugs Bunny holding a gun.
He also likes what people don’t see when they look at him: A man working to get his GED, training to be a nurse’s assistant to provide for his two kids. Their names are inscribed on his right arm.
His style, he said, is no contradiction to his career ambitions.
It’s just comfortable, like how his parents’ generation felt comfortable in Afros and bell bottoms. It’s no different than how the generation before them felt in top hats and zoot suits.
The sagging jeans trend differs, though, because of its criminal roots, according to Mark Anthony Neal, a Duke University professor of African-American studies.
Prisoners started sagging their pants because wardens feared they might hang themselves or harm others if they had belts, Neal said.
In the ’90s, the style became identified with hip-hop culture; some artists donned low-hanging clothes and rapped about being pimps, degrading women while spewing the N-word.
Neal said the age-old question of ”What are the kids wearing?” became automatically linked with the perceived increase in youth violence and crime.
”The older folks think that if you take off the sagging jeans and the hat, you’ll be less likely to engage in criminal activity,” Neal said. “They just can’t grasp what the younger generation is thinking.”
In recent years, Neal said, there’s been an unfair attack on hip-hop culture to replace it with a more traditional culture of respect and self-sufficiency.
You see it in Bill Cosby’s plea to blacks to speak proper English. Or in hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons pushing record executives to get artists to start using more respectful language toward women. Or in the NAACP burying the N-word at a mock funeral during its Detroit convention.
Opa-locka’s vice mayor, Dorothy ”Dottie” Johnson, would even like to see the ordinance beefed up. She said enforcing the law would help Opa-locka’s youth look more presentable.
Until then, the proposed ordinance is the talk of the city.
”I can’t stand it,” 54-year-old Betty Jackson said of the fashion trend, as she came out of an Opa-locka supermarket. “It’s just disrespectful for you to go around showing everybody your underwear.”
”That’s because you’re old, Mom,” said her 29-year-old daughter, Elisah Mosley.
CHRYSLER FINANCIAL PRESENTS:
THE MIAMI HIP HOP SUMMIT
“GET YOUR MONEY RIGHT”
ON FINANCIAL EMPOWERMENT
-Money Management and Wealth Building
-Maintaining Good Credit
-Credit Card and Debt Management
Guest Speakers are:
*Dr. Ben Chavis
Please Visit HASAN.ORG For More Inforamtion.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
12:00pm – 4:00pm
Florida Memorial Univeristy “A. Chester Robinson Athletic Center”
15800 Northwest 42nd Avenue
Miami Gardens, FL