Sagging pants bothering Maxton officials

The Maxton Board of Commissioners, frustrated by what it characterizes as young people in that town leaving too little to the imagination in how they dress in public, have a message: Dress appropriately, or face the possibility of being punished.

On Tuesday, the board, with Mayor Emmett “Chip” Morton being the most vocal, asked Town Attorney Nick Sojka to draft an ordinance dealing with the problem that the commissioners could review in September. Two people who spoke during a public hearing expressed support for such an ordinance.

The commissioners were careful to include young females in the discussion, saying they are sometimes guilty of showing a bit too much skin, but it’s clear they have “sagging pants” in their cross-hairs. Sagging dates to the 1990s, although it has made a comeback in recent years and is most popular with young black males. It’s helpful in our racially ridiculous society that five of the six officials on the town board are black as that should kick aside any notion of racist intent.

Sagging’s origin isn’t known with certainty, but it typically is linked to prison inmates who wear their pants low as an invitation for homosexual sex — a strange message for young straight males to be sending. Seems to us, wearing pants so low would be uncomfortable.

While the commissioners appear unanimous something should be done, one, Elizabeth Gilmore, reminded them they were young once too.

“I have questions about us making an ordinance that regulates how people should be clothed,” she said. “We all dressed in ways when we were young that was to us just fashion. Eventually social norms got rid of these trends. We have churches, stores and restaurants that say to us that you can’t come in dressed that way.”

There are also legal questions. Courts have found that “sagging pants” are an expression, and therefore protected by the First Amendment. Yet ordinances banning them continue to pop up.

That happened last month in Timmonsville, South Carolina, where the Town Council adopted an ordinance forbidding wearing cloths in a manner that “intentionally” displays undergarments. It also bans public nudity and showing pornography in public.

Sojka will look at that town’s ordinance, which calls for first-time violators to receive a verbal warning, second-time offenders to have their names taken and placed on a registry, and those who are found in violation a third or subsequent times facing fines up to $600.

We understand Maxton officials want to protect residents from having to see some kid’s underwear or naked behind, but we figure there are more important challenges facing that town.

An ordinance is easy to adopt, but expensive to defend if challenged in court. Should that happen, it might be Maxton caught with its pants down.

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