The city of Ocala, Florida recently voted to criminalize "sagging pants," officially defined as wearing trousers "two inches below [the] natural waist," local ABC-affiliate WFTV reports. While police must give warnings first, two-time "offenders" could face a hefty $500 penalty or even six months in prison. City Council member Mary Rich, who championed the new restriction, claims the measure will help improve the city's image. However, critics fear the law is simply the latest attempt to profile and harass young adults, particularly black youth. Several residents voiced their concerns with WFTV on Thursday: "I think this is a form of harassment," said resident Curt Brown. "[It] gets you pulled to the side, [so they can] harass you, search you and have a right to do whatever they want to." "It just makes no sense whatsoever," said resident Adia Crumley. "It's another way to lock people up and put them in jail so the city can make money off of that."Various cities throughout the country have passed similar ordinances in the past, such as Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish, which ruled in April to issue fines or community service to people wearing sagging pants. That law also prompted public opposition, especially from civil-liberties advocates who pointed out that law enforcement have "bigger concerns." Indeed, they do, especially in Ocala, Florida, which faces disproportionate levels of violent crime. But the latest measure deals solely with legislating apparel, making it hard for many activists to see it as anything but a pretext for increased profiling.
Stephen Quillenis a Summer 2014 intern at In These Times.