REPORT FROM ALDERMAN EMMA MITTS
This week, I - - 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts, introduced a resolution in support of Chicago’s indecent exposure ordinance during the May 9, 2012 Chicago City Council meeting. This resolution is designed to address a social issue confronting many urban neighborhoods in Chicago: Low-Slung, Saggy Pants on Urban Youth. You’ve probably observed it too – the ‘saggin and baggin’ look.
Over the years, whenever I drive through the several diverse areas I represent, including the Austin, Hermosa, parts of West Humboldt Park and the Belmont-Cragin communities on the city’s west and northwest side, I see groups of young men dressed casually, with pants well below their waists, underwear of various hues and designs proudly on display.
If you pass by almost any neighborhood corner, whether you are walking or driving - - you’ll be ‘exposed’ to this popular and growing phenomenon. While most of those embracing this fashion trend are younger men, it’s true that some adults have also adopted this style of clothing. It is an unfortunate trend that invites negative stereotypes affecting mainly targeted groups of young people of color. For example, during this difficult economy, it’s hard enough to obtain a job when dressed to the nines. How will we expect young people to successfully compete in the job market if their first impression by potential employers is that of possible gang or other affiliations that greatly reduce their opportunity to be hired? The old adage that the ‘clothes make the man’ are truer than ever.
As summer is around the corner and the end of the school year approaches, more young people will be on the streets in various communities of Chicago, and it would be refreshing to see more appropriately dressed youth ready to secure a job, further their education or enjoy the best of the city.
The saggy pants resolution I sponsored at the Council meeting in many ways complements Chicago’s existing indecent exposure ordinance. Many cities and towns throughout the U.S. are enacting or at least considering some type of ‘saggy pants’ laws or bans, including Detroit-Michigan, Atlanta-Georgia, and even closer to home - - such communities as Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago and local southern suburbs of Lynwood and Sauk Village as well.
As a concerned and community-focused lawmaker representing Chicago’s west and northwest side, I pushed for this resolution that will allow us to hold hearings on this issue in the City Council’s Education Committee. Perhaps sometimes in the future, we will seek to craft an initiative that would ban the wearing of saggy, baggy pants in public places.
While it may not seem like the most pressing of topics - -the ‘saggy-draggy pants’ debate is one of those issues that we face in our communities which, however unfairly - - add to the perceptions of a culture of violence. And while it is often difficult to legislate clothing behavior, today’s growing fashion ‘faux-pas’ related to drooping and sagging pants is hard to ignore. Also, it is an unfortunate fact that lately, the wearing of pants below the hips is more and more often associated with gang activity and other negative influences, which also impacts school violence, as well as street violence - - which is a growing problem impacting residents of all ages.
There are those who feel strongly about this issue, pro and con, but one thing is clear: if those young people who favor this sagging style would generally act in ways which help to promote the common good, then perhaps we would not be considering the passage of this resolution, and a future law prohibiting this style of dress. What we are looking to do is simply encourage folks to exhibit some social manners, basic, common sense and overall respect for other people. I understand the inter-generational differences in styles of dress; however the world today is a vastly different place than it was when I grew up. Today, the wrong attire can cause you a lot of grief if you run across others who don’t like what you have on. It can also cost you even more than that – far too many young people have lost their lives because of the wrong color, tilt of a hat or slope of the baggy pants.
The bottom line is the fact that some people need to understand - - both young people and adults alike - - is that many of us do not want to see their underwear — and I am one of them. Personally, I am tired of looking at other people’s underwear in public. What about you?”
Under the proposed resolution, individuals caught wearing their pants more than 3 inches below the hip in public, and in the Chicago schools would be disciplined, and perhaps fined but would not face criminal charges.
What we are looking to do is create a dialogue that would possibly prohibit students from exposing “underwear or body parts in an indecent manner” that disrupts the learning environment. Further, through this resolution, I am also looking to help prepare young people for the future world of work and responsibility. Hard as it may be for young people to accept - - the reality is that clothes we wear affect how we feel, look and act as a person and we are often assessed by how we dress and how we present ourselves. It can even impact the choices you make for the rest of your life. Now that’s something to think about as you or your young person gets ready to face the world tomorrow and the next day, isn’t it?
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