SC’s Proposed Saggy Pants Law is Blatant Institutional Racism

SC lawmakers have been given an extraordinary opportunity to get their priorities straight. It is doubtful that they will.

In less than a week, a bill to ban saggy pants in South Carolina was abandoned by more than half of its supporters.

Eleven legislators got behind the bill that would make it illegal to wear your pants more than three inches lower than the top of your hips. After hearing direct criticism from constituents and being mocked in the national media, six of these lawmakers are now demanding that their names not be associated with the idea.

Maybe You Should Focus on Something Else …

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, thought it was a great idea when he signed on to the bill earlier this month. But his constituents let him know that other issues may be more appropriate for elected officials to address, such as taking measures to prevent deadly school shootings like the one that rocked Florida earlier this month. Or addressing crime. Or the opioid crisis. Or the dismal pay that SC teachers live on.

The list of issues more important than whether young people wear saggy pants is almost infinite.

But a law banning saggy pants is not just unimportant – it’s racist, it’s authoritarian, it’s petty, and it’s patronizing.

The Proposed “Saggy Pants” Law is Institutional Racism at its Worst

Saggy pants are a fashion that, in South Carolina, is more common among young African-American men. This is a group that – even without laws policing their fashion choices – is disproportionately pulled over, searched, arrested, imprisoned, and subjected to police force more than any other group. Do police really need another reason to harass them?

No. They also don’t need another reason to fine them or force them to work for free for the state (the bill calls for community service for second-time offenders).

Young black men already get their fair share of fines, imprisonment and forced labor – far more than other people in the state – and adding “bad choice of clothing” to the list of offenses will not help them, their neighbors, the police, or the community at large.

It could, however, bring in some cash – and, of course, free labor – for the government…

A Pretext to Stop and Search Young Black Men

Even more concerning, though, is that it would give police yet another excuse to approach young black men, confront them, and potentially search them.

It would effectively give police “probable cause” to treat anyone with saggy pants like criminal suspects, and such encounters would – based on the historical evidence of SC police interacting with African-American males – undoubtedly escalate and lead to charges much more serious than violating the state-sanctioned dress code.

Make no mistake – this law is not about forcing young black men to dress “professionally.” It is not the job of the legislature or the police to enforce dress codes. Especially when there is such a clear racial component – specifically, it is not the job of government to impose and enforce White American norms of culture and dress.

The bill would impose the following punishments for wearing your pants too low:

  • First offense: $25 fine
  • Second offense: $50 fine, or three hours of community service
  • Third offense or more: $75 fine or six hours of community service

So, money to the government, free labor overseen by the government, and the many incidental arrests and charges that will come from “probable cause” arising from the officer’s initial approach and confrontation with individuals.


Criminal Defense Lawyer in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach SC

Criminal defense and DUI defense attorney Lacey Thompson accepts criminal defense cases in the Columbia, Lexington, Conway, and Myrtle Beach SC areas. Call at 843-444-6122 or fill out our online contact form if you have questions or to set up a free initial consultation.



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