Posted on May 11, 2011

Is Florida’s ‘Droopy Drawers’ Law a Form of Racial Profiling?

David A. Love, The Grio, May 10, 2011

The Florida legislature passed a bill last week that bans saggy pants in school, allowing for suspension or other punishment for public school students who show their underwear or “butt crack.” The sponsors of the bill–state Senator Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) and state Rep. Hazelle Rogers (D-Lauderdale Lakes)–are black. The legislation awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.


And Florida is not alone. Last month, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe beat Florida to the punch by signing a bill that bans students from wearing clothes that expose “underwear, buttocks or the breast of a female.” Proponents believe the law will improve the learning environment and stem the violence caused by student competition over clothing styles. A similar effort in Tennessee failed in a state house subcommittee in April, a second attempt in as many years.

The town of Delcambre, Louisiana passed an indecent exposure ordinance in 2007 that prohibited the showing of one’s underwear. In Hahira, Georgia, the city council passed a law prohibiting people from wearing pants below the belt and revealing skin or underwear.

Last year a Bronx man was issued a summons by a police officer for disorderly conduct, and wearing “his pants down below his buttocks exposing underwear [and] potentially showing private parts.”


And last month a Latino high school student in a suburb of Wichita, Kansas accused school officers of hitting him with a Taser and breaking his arm after he refused to pull up his pants.

These prohibitions sound like Victorian-era cross-dressing laws of the 1800s and early 1900s, which prohibited women from wearing pants and required that they wear dresses. {snip} The practice is associated with prison and gang culture, as inmates are not issued belts to prevent suicide attempts.


Eric Adams, a New York State Senator, initiated a campaign with billboards reading “Raise your pants, raise your image!” The former police captain believes that young people will benefit from the style change. “You can raise your level of respect if you raise your pants,” said Adams. “When you raise your pants, you raise your character. When you raise your pants, you raise your grades, self-esteem and how you feel about yourself,” he added.


But do we really need a law for this?

“Those that participate in these ridiculous and counterproductive culture wars are always out of touch with what’s cool and current,” said Giovanni “G. la Belles-Lettre” Turner, Soul Model Recording artist and University of Miami professor. Turner, who is also a Miami resident, views the Florida legislation as both an attack on hip-hop and a distraction.

“The authors of this bill clearly have not seen a hip-hop or neosoul music video or visited a Miami, Tampa, or Orlando high school in at least decade. If they did, they would know sagging pants fell out of fashion a long time ago,” he added. “So while this is an obvious assault on hip-hop culture and African-American culture, and I am offended, it is, nevertheless, a moot point. {snip}

Just to get to the heart of the matter, some black folks say that such laws amount to racial profiling, pure and simple. These laws, they suggest, are really a proxy for racial bias. Organizations such as the NAACP claim the bill is an example of the school-to-prison pipeline, and would increase dropout rates for black males.

To be sure, black and Latino youth are an easy target, as they are already the prime targets of America’s criminal justice system. More of them are in prison today than were in chains back in the days of slavery. Often shunned by society, scapegoated, and neglected, they are the fodder, the raw materials, if you will, for a prison-industrial-complex. Young men of color are associated with the practice of wearing saggy pants, and so this law is for them.

It smacks of the days of Jim Crow, when African-Americans were singled out for their so-celled “lawless behavior.” The Black Codes were enacted in the South to control the freed blacks through an unjust legal system, with crimes specifically invented for blacks, such as “vagrancy,” “mischief,” “insulting gestures,” “cruel treatment to animals,” and the “vending of spiritous or intoxicating liquors.” Criminalizing blacks for these phony crimes and compelling them do hard time, the Jim Crow laws stripped them of their voting rights, on purpose, in order to stop black political power dead in its tracks.

Not surprisingly, the anti-sagging laws come at a time when young people–particularly poor children and children of color–are increasingly criminalized. {snip} And while there are no jobs for them, there is plenty of room in the penitentiary.

{snip} As of 2006, 13 percent of black Floridians were stripped of their voting rights. This, as Florida lawmakers, who have received generous contributions from prison contractors, are ready to hand over as many as 14 state prisons to private enterprise.

This is all about so much more than droopy drawers.