PLAQUEMINE — By a vote of 9-1, the Iberville Parish Council approved an ordinance Tuesday making it illegal to wear sagging pants and other apparel below the waist, exposing skin or underwear in public.
The ordinance, identical to one recently passed in Terrebonne Parish, affects only the unincorporated areas of the parish — not inside city or town limits — and will be enforced by parish deputies. A first-offense conviction will bring a $50 fine, a second conviction a $100 fine and third and ensuing convictions will bring $100 fines and 16 hours of community service.
The ordinance was drawn up at the request of council member Louis “Pete” Kelley, who told the council in January that he was getting complaints from residents about the practice — what some young people call a fashion — and he viewed it as a safety issue.
“For instance, if somebody asks somebody to pull their pants up and it starts an argument or a fight, it can get out of hand,” Kelley said prior to the meeting. “Now they can call the Sheriff’s Office and they can handle it. You don’t have to get into a shouting match.”
Only one person from the public spoke up at the public hearing on the ordinance.
“I’m in favor of this (ordinance),” said Thomas Domingue Sr., a White Castle resident. “There is no reason for a young man to be showing his underwear.”
Because “sagging” is most often practiced by young, African-American males, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Orleans declared in a Tuesday letter to the council that it is opposed to the ordinance on several levels, including racial profiling.
However, Domingue is African American. And two of the five black council members, Warren “T-Notchie” Taylor and Henry Scott Jr., voted in favor of the ordinance. Two other black council members, Leonard Jackson and Howard Oubre Jr., were absent.
Council member Salaris G. Butler, who is black, cast the lone vote against the ordinance.
“I voted against it because I had a number of young people in the community, I would say over 20, come to me and asked me why I was against them expressing themselves,” Butler said. “I don’t like the pants below the waist but I believe everyone should have the right to express themselves and I voted against the ordinance to preserve their rights.”
Stephen Dixon, an ACLU field representative, got to the meeting after both the public hearing. He was there for the vote, but did not address the council during the meeting. Afterward he told several council members and local reporters that he believes the ordinance is unconstitutional.
“How you dress is a way to express yourself, and the Constitution guarantees our right to freely express ourselves,” Dixon said.
Editor’s note: This story was modified on March 19, 2014, to indicate that Stephen Dixon did arrive at the council meeting in time for the vote. The Advocate regrets the error.