(June 21, 2013) If the law is half as good at keeping order as it is at creating puns, it just might be worth it.
The Town of Ocean City is considering entering the foray in the nationwide debate over saggy pants – and the government’s ability to legislate against them – after one official has suggested a ban on droopy trousers could help solve recent Boardwalk unrest.
Councilman Brent Ashley requested that his colleagues formally discuss a crackdown on exposed cracks at the council’s next public work session, scheduled for July 9, following the recent passage of a similar policy in the resort town of Wildwood, N.J.
Municipal enforcement of public decency, Ashley said, could help restore a semblance of order to the Boardwalk after a heavy police action and widespread public concern earlier this month over the environment on the boards.
“Everyone is talking about how the crime is a problem with the senior week-ers,” Ashley said. “The June kids have been coming down here for many years. They’re not perfect, but they’re not thugs either. What we have now is a ‘thug’ element.”
The style of dress known as ‘sagging’ typically involves wearing one’s pants well below the waist and often below the buttocks entirely. It is commonly associated with prisons, where inmates are often issued ill-fitting pants and not permitted belts. Outside of prisons, the style often creates a connotation of gang and criminal activity.
“It’s not to mean that all the kids who are thugs wear their pants down, or vice versa, but it’s clearly part of the image,” said Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano, who pushed for the decency ordinance recently passed by the Wildwood City Commission.
“In the course of the summer, you get an inordinate amount of calls and emails from parents and families saying that this is not the boardwalk they grew up on and this is not the atmosphere that they want for their kids,” Troiano said.
Wildwood’s ordinance, approved just last week, would ban Boardwalk patrons from wearing pants more than three inches below their waist. It would also mandate shoes, as well as shirts between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
First-time violators will receive a warning and be asked to correct their dress or leave the Boardwalk. Second offenses will receive fines of $25 to $100, and third offenses up to $200.
The obvious contention to this policy is that government should not be regulating personal taste, no matter how poor. But Troiano contends that his ordinance is not an overreach because it addresses a specific amenity – the Boardwalk – where specific styles of dress are unsuitable.
“We didn’t target the whole city. We targeted the Boardwalk because that’s the largest concentration of children and families,” Troiano said. “We’re not talking about the whole town, we’re talking about an area that is specifically child-friendly.”
However, the broader goal of the policy – beyond preventing indecent exposure – is clearly to reduce raucous behavior associated, correctly or not, with young men in saggy pants.
“When you dress that mentality, you act that mentality, and the mentality is to be a thug,” Troiano said. “I know I’m on a fine line here, but at some point you have to take a stand.”
Also of issue is the fact that saggy pants – while by no means racially exclusive – have been popularized by rap culture and are associated with African-American youth.
“I never looked at whether it was a white ass or a black ass,” Troiano countered. “It’s just stupid.”