Two seniors at Bolivar Central High School in Bolivar, Tennessee, were arrested for wearing sagging pants to school and spent 48 hours in jail.
A school resource officer brought attention to the students’ wardrobe choices, and the students were charged with indecent exposure — although, according to WMC Action News, the local television station that first reported the story, saggy pants may not actually constitute indecent exposure under Tennessee law.
Although four seniors were charged for indecent exposure over two weeks in November, only two students spent time in the Hardeman County Criminal Justice Complex. At least one of the students has to pay $250 in court fees and fines. The school did not return WMC Action News’ request for comment.
Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for cities to criminalize people for wearing sagging pants, and for schools to lend a helping hand — a trend that social justice advocates say is discriminatory and targets young black men.
In September, a black college student who attended Hinds Community College in Mississippi was stopped by a campus police officer who said his pants violated the college dress code. When the student refused to show his ID, he was arrested for a failure to comply, which means he could receive up to six months in prison time and a $500 fine. After the incident, the college came to the conclusion that he had not violated the dress code and students protested, telling the college to “stop criminalizing black expression.”
A Dadeville, Alabama city councilor named Frank Goodman received national attention earlier this year for proposing an ordinance prohibiting anyone from wearing sagging pants (as well as whatever dresses and shorts the city council deemed too short, lest the council members showed “favoritism” to women). Goodman said his motivation was partly religious, declaring that God would never wear saggy pants. Anyone breaking the ordinance would have to pay a penalty of up to $500 and spend 60 days in jail.
Towns’ and cities’ saggy pants bans have attracted the attention of the NAACP. The organization met with Ocala, Florida city leaders last year and threatened to sue after the city prohibited saggy pants, a ban that was unanimously approved and included a $500 fine. The NAACP said the law was “clearly discriminatory” and Dale Landry, of the NAACP Florida chapter, said, “I’m sorry, it’s going to be black males that are the subject of this.” Soon after the controversy erupted, the city council repealed the saggy pants ban.
However, there is a question of whether students of color are going to avoid time in jail regardless of whether cities or towns bans saggy pants. Research shows teachers can practice a racial bias when penalizing students for breaking school rules, and students of color receive harsher punishments, such as suspension or expulsion.
In Texas, school resource officers have issued tickets for misbehavior that is not criminal to students as young as four years old, and there are fines and outstanding warrants for arrests if students do not appear in juvenile court. School resource officers, or SROs, have increased in the past 15 years following the Columbine High School massacre. The increased presence of SROs, some of whom are not properly trained to shift their behavior to a student population, have coincided with an increase in zero tolerance policies, which some racial justice advocates say contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”