Baggy trousers

It was a fashion that offended those with delicate sensibilities, and even caused Barack Obama to wade in.

“Brothers should pull up their pants,” the former president once said of sagging – the practice of wearing trousers so low around the waist that most of the underwear is exposed.

Now a Florida city that made headlines by passing an ordinance against the trend in 2007, imposing a fine of up to $500 on anybody caught low-riding within its boundaries, appears no longer to be outraged.

In a 4-1 vote, commissioners in Opa-locka acted to strike the original regulation, and a 2013 amendment extending the ban to women, from its statute book. Officials in the majority-Black city said the move was meant to increase equality.

“I was never in support of it, even as a resident,” Vice-Mayor Chris Davis, one of five city commissioners who are all Black, told the Miami Herald. “I felt it disproportionately affected a certain segment of our population, which is young, African American men.”

Sagging, which has its roots in New York hip-hop culture of the early 1990s, spread around the country into the early 2000s. School districts passed rules against it, the Louisiana town of Delcambre branded it indecent exposure and in Dallas, Texas, officials went so far as to launch an anti-sagging billboard campaign.

In 2011, Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer of the band Green Day, was thrown off a flight from Oakland to Burbank when attendants deemed his trousers were hanging too low.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticised the push for regulation, denouncing the original Opa-locka ordinance as “a ridiculous waste of public resources” – a position the city’s current leaders have come to embrace.

At a meeting last week it was decided that tighter budgets in the coronavirus era, married with a lack of enthusiasm to enforce the ordinance, meant it was time for it to go.

“What better climate to do it in than the one that’s going on around the country centred on police reform, and just looking at ways that we can make our public services more equitable,” Davis told the Herald.

Once the commission ratifies its preliminary vote, work crews will remove fading “No Ifs, Ands or Butts …” signs from parks around the city.

The one commissioner to vote against the repeal, Alvin Burke, said he believed the law was intended to “uplift” young Black men, not target them.

“If y’all see fit to do away with it and just continue to let our young Black men walk around into our buildings like that, then so be it,” he said.

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