By Curt Yeomans
The Jonesboro City Council approved an ordinance that bans a fashion trend known as "sagging pants," on Monday, by a 5-1 vote, but only after residents and councilmembers engaged in a nearly 20-minute-long debate that exposed heated, and passionate views on the topic.
The ban stipulates that anyone who wears pants, shorts and skirts more than three inches below their hips can be cited for "Disorderly Conduct," and, therefore, have to appear before the city's municipal judge and pay a fine. The ban comes hot on the heals of a similar one adopted last month in the City of Hampton.
Critics of the ban, who addressed the city council publicly Monday for the first time, said city leaders had gone overboard on the issue. "I don't think that anyone has a right to force their opinions on what constitutes decent fashion on anyone else," said Jonesboro resident, Dalton Smith. "I would call it fashion fascists. I don't think it's necessary to legislate against this ... If you vote for this ban, I know it's a very minor issue, but in the spirit, it would be like the Pledge of Allegiance we just took earlier."
Now that the ban has been approved, Mayor Luther Maddox said it will officially go into effect 10 days after Monday's meeting, which would be the end of next week.
The heated feelings expressed Monday showed a split among some residents and city councilmembers, about the line between taking a stand against what some see as public indecency, and taking actions that some construe as an infringement upon Constitutional rights.
City Councilman Joe Compton, who cast the lone vote against the ban, said his "knee-jerk reaction" to first hearing about the ban was to support it, but he added that he has since come to feel it is not his place to dictate fashion to other people.
"I just don't feel it's the government's role to tell people they can't dress like that," he said.
Fellow Councilman Clarence Mann, however, argued that the city government's role was to protect residents of the city. "I think, we as a council, have to look after the citizens here in the city, the same way that the proprietor of a business would look after their customers," he said. "We have to look after our constituents."
Jonesboro resident, Sammy McBrayer, who voiced opposition to the ban, said that he had spent time in prison, and that his understanding of low-hanging pants was that it was a prison symbol for prostitution. He told city council members that they should therefore only go after "sagging pants" on those grounds, rather than issuing a "Disorderly Conduct" charge.
"They hang their pants to signify that they are 'open for business,'" McBrayer said. "So, if you want to pass an ordinance, when a person is hanging their pants down below their buttocks, get them for prostitution. But, as long as they have underwear covering their buttocks, and their flesh, there's no difference in that, and their shorts."
Resident, David Barron, countered by saying that while a person's flesh may not be shown because they are wearing underwear, other people still do not want to see even that much exposure in public.
"We're talking about indecent exposure to your extremities, and he may or may not have on underwear," Barron said. "I hope he does. Most of them that I've seen have on underwear, but who wants to look at a grown man's underwear."
Ann Sligh, an outspoken proponent of the ban, passionately told the council that people who do not want to see another person's sagging pants have the right to not have to risk viewing that sight.
"I don't care what anybody says, it IS indecent exposure," she said. "It offends me, and I know it offends other people. It has never been a problem before. It has become a problem, and we have got to do something about it. I told you, twice sitting on my mother's porch, I saw a boy's pants fall to his knees. If it's not offensive to these folks, I don't' know what it's going to take to offend you.
"Surely people like us still have some rights," she added.
Smith then jumped up and responded to Sligh's comments, by saying: "If what she's saying is taken to its logical extreme, then, any new fashion trend that a small group of people don't like could, theoretically, be banned. You can't legislate this. You just can't do it. I mean, don't look at it, if you don't like it.
"I'm sorry, but one of the hallmarks of living in a free society with individual expression is that people are going to dress in ways that you don't like, and you just have to deal with it," Smith added.