Riviera Beach is taking a stand against indecency—or is it against fashion? A new ordinance is addressing a familiar sight on the street: Saggy pants.
The debate over the ban has put members of the community, both young and old, up in arms. Younger people feel that their rights are being taken away, and older people say they are just looking to make their children grow up.
The saggy pants ordinance in Riviera Beach, passed by an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote in last week’s city referendum, prohibits people from walking around with their pants hanging below the waist.
The law, approved on March 11, states that anyone with pants that show skin or underwear faces a $150 fine or community service for the first offense. A second offense carries a $300 fine or more community service. Repeat offenders could face as much as 60 days in jail.
Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters proposed the ban.
“It’s not that I woke up one morning and decided to deal with the saggy pants issue,” Masters told the South Florida Times. “We have enough to worry about with violence, healthcare and a lack of housing. I just noticed that everywhere I went, a mother or grandmother would come up to me and complain they couldn’t even take their kids to the park anymore without seeing someone’s pants sagging.”
The city is the latest to pass a law encouraging people to pull up their pants. Opa-locka approved a similar ban last year. The issue has also made its way to the state Legislature in Tallahassee.
State Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, sponsored a bill on saggy pants that passed the Senate last week. The bill would punish students who wear pants that expose their sexual organs or back ends. State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, is the bill’s other sponsor, according to The Miami Herald.
A House committee has approved an identical proposal sponsored by Bullard’s husband, state Rep. Ed Bullard, D-Miami.
The bill would require schools to enforce penalties ranging from a verbal warning on first offense to a 10-day out-of-school suspension for repeat offenses, The Herald reported.
“I believe we are sending a message to our young that this is unacceptable,’’ Bullard said in a phone interview with the South Florida Times. “Yes, it is only a fad, but it’s a fad that has gone on too long and too far. I support this bill because it tells our young people that having their pants sagging does not comply with the social norm expected of them, thereby placing them in a position to be perceived as uneducated and less likely to do well in a professional environment.’’
Bullard went on to explain her belief that if some young people knew that the original trend of sagging pants began in jails as a way of allowing men to tell other men that they were “available,’’ the style would not be as popular.
Fads and trends come and go, but young locals in Riviera Beach say they wonder if this new law in their city is really going to penalize them for wearing clothes they like and in which they feel comfortable.
Chris Johnson, 13, and Ron King, 17, both of Riviera Beach, summed up the law with one word: Stupid.
While standing near the Wells Recreation Center on Blue Heron Boulevard one recent afternoon, they said they should be allowed to wear any clothes they prefer.
“It’s the style,’’ Johnson said. “What, are we supposed to wear our pants like Steve Urkel?”
Johnson was referring to the 1990s TV sitcom Family Matters, in which the nerdy teenager who starred in the show wore waist-high pants.
“It’s assuming everyone who wears their pants like that is selling drugs or up to something,” King said. “But that’s honestly not true, it’s a stereotype.”
As far as enforcing the new law, Masters said the city is still working on it, attempting to find the best way to implement it and still give young men a chance to pull their pants up and show pride in the appearance of the community.
Charles Willis, 17, laughed when a reporter asked him what he thought of the law.
“What do I think of it?” Willis asked with a mischievous smile on his face. “This is what I think of it…”
He then pulled his low-hanging pants even lower.
”Just kidding, just kidding,’’ he said, as he pulled them back up.
“We bought the clothes,” Willis said. “Why shouldn’t we wear them however way we want to? They didn’t pay for these jeans.”
Opa-locka Police Chief Hayes Tubbs said police in that city have already begun enforcing the law in public areas.
“The law is more instructional than anything else,” Hayes said. “If someone has saggy pants and they’re on public property or in a city building, they will be requested to leave the facility. If they don’t, the police will ask them to leave the facility, and, following that, if they still don’t leave they’ll be arrested for trespassing. It isn’t meant to throw young people in jail, but to give guidelines to professional dress.”
In Riviera Beach, the enforcement is different, but the end is similar. Individuals will first be given notice to adjust their pants. If they don’t, they will face penalties.
If the fines are not paid and the community-service hours are not fulfilled, the offender may have to appear in court.
“The point is to restore the sense of community pride,” Masters said. “Young people need to get the message that James Brown used to say, ‘Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!’ That includes being proud of the way you dress.”
Dexter Saulsby, 18, sported black pants with a belt, hanging low off of his thin frame, openly displaying his disregard for the ordinance.
“It’s such a waste of time,” Saulsby said. “Because people are going to do it anyway. Crime is so exaggerated as is around here, I don’t think cops are going to do anything about the pants. They have other things to worry about.”