Fashion Fines, Felonies Not the Way to Get Teens to Stop Sagging Their Pants

This was originally posted August 10, 2016, on Youth Today.

By Zerline Hughes

According to my Facebook timeline, yet another fashion trend is on its way out. Fashion comes and goes, right? But none of them are outlawed — yes, outlawed — like this one: sagging pants.

Yes, sagging pants are unattractive and unsightly, but we shouldn’t support the criminalization of this trend by literally calling the fashion police.

With law enforcement targeting black men, this will surely become the next low-level offense that increases school suspensions, in-school arrests and further feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Further, it will increase walking while black offenses for young adults and men, thus increase the potential for involvement with the judicial system, incarceration, and dare I say it: police shootings.

In cities across America, “saggy” or “droopy” pants is now a criminal offense. For example: In the Terrebonne Parish of Louisiana, it’s not an arrestable offense on the books, but after a third violation, a judge could make it so. “Offenders” are fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $100 and 16 hours of public service for the third offense.

In the beach town of Wildwood, New Jersey, the fine is between $25 and $100 if caught walking on the boardwalk with low pants, swim trunks and even skirts.

In cities like Ocala, Florida, and Dublin, Georgia, the trend is a fineable (up to $500!) and arrestable offense. Further, two Tennessee youths spent a weekend in jail in November after a school resource officer called the local sheriff’s department for violating the school’s dress code.


A Florida city council member who introduced such legislation said the law would help people respect themselves. The Ocala mayor, however, said, “I just don’t think you can create laws that make you respect yourself.

I’m afraid we are creating a monster.

In the 1980s, black communities wanted drugs off the street. We went to our law enforcement officials, policymakers and complained. In turn, we were given tough on crime laws like zoning — you know, drug-free zones that carry enhanced sentences if caught dealing near a school or library — and mandatory minimum sentencing.
And here we are now eating crow, wishing something different would have happened. Wishing we hadn’t gotten what we asked for — a 500 percent increase in our prison population during the last 40 years, according to the The Sentencing Project’s “U.S. Prison Population Trends 1999-2014” report. It found that changes in laws and policies accounted for the increase in the incarceration of our clients, students and family members — some of whom could have benefited more from mentorship, rehabilitation, a second chance.

Yes, it is, in fact, hard to parent, minister to and mentor our young people to make good decisions, but it’s got to be 100 times easier than scrambling to finance a lawyer, sacrificing to make bail, visiting our kids in jail or worse: seeing them dead on the street, their name listed as the next hashtag in social media advocacy.

Before we say “yay” to this growing trend of “banning” sagging pants (which yes, I think we can all agree that we want to see it disappear), let’s teach respect, taking the lead of President Obama when he told MTV, “Brothers should pull up their pants. That doesn’t mean you have to pass a law … but that doesn’t mean folks can’t have some sense and some respect for other people …”

How about we take a vow to address this directly with our young people? Let’s introduce true fashion sense to our kids by taking them into an apparel store with a real-life tailor. Let them receive some one-on-one attention — the positive kind — from a salesperson who asks them what they like. Make it a field trip and have them get their measurements taken so they can see the opportunities they may take advantage of, if they so desire.

Secondly, let’s commit to taking youths to various job sites. Point out the required uniform or dress code enforced to keep a job and make money.

Third, let’s pass on this message of guidance and mentorship at schools, to teachers, deans and school resource officers. Instead of choosing to suspend or arrest youths, consider offering alternative wardrobe options. With some community activism and donations, a collection of trendy belts, trousers and jeans can be provided to students in schools and after-school programs.

Finally, simple lessons on dress etiquette, presentation and style could make all the difference. With assistance from local businesses and entrepreneurs, including apparel store owners, fashion 101 advice may actually do the trick.

Let’s stop criminalizing our young people yet again. Let’s stop looking for answers to our problems from our policymakers by way of laws, and start looking at high-impact, positive solutions that involve direct intervention.

Zerline Hughes is a Washington, District of Columbia, communications consultant and blogger on social justice issues. Her blog Not These Two focuses on keeping her children out of the school-to-prison pipeline. Follow her on Twitter at @zerlinehughes.


122 Black Men Shot Dead by Police in 187 Days? Oh, OK.

Note: Within just an hour or two of posting this blog on July 6 in the wee hours of the night, the nation learned about another fatal incident involving police and a Black male: Philando Castile. The number is now 123 Black men shot dead by police. Within hours.

By Zerline Hughes

More tears today. I’d love to blame it on my Cancerian-moon roots. Heck, my birthday is in less than 48 hours and I can cry if I want to.  But, the blame – once again –  goes to our INjustice system. My son is downstairs safe at home with me this time, but my partner is not home safe; he’s en route to work. Apparently, there’s a great chance he won’t come back. That’s based on today’s new stat that 122 Black men have been killed by a cop this year. That Fusion statistic was preceded by the murder of Alton Sterling who was killed Tuesday by Baton Rouge, Louisiana police.

sterlingWait: this year? 122 Black men? There’s only been 187 days in 2016. What?

We know but a few of those 122 Black men. Their names are preceded by hashtags on Twitter, on T-shirts, and they’re mentioned in advocacy reports calling for reform. If one of the two Black men in my household became a hashtag – and not because of their fame, good deeds and continuing successes – I would lose it. Especially considering how frantic I am right now about 122 men I don’t even know.

I would be no good to anyone. I’m telling you now, I would not be that poster child mom touring the U.S. talking about reform, holding a picture of my slain family member. I would opt out of participating in the media circuit, standing alongside Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. or whoever else now represents Black folk.

Instead, I would be in a dimly lit corner – much like I am right now – crying. Dropping my head back to hold in the tears. I’d be wondering ‘how did we get to where we are now?”

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To Be or Not to Be Independent: The Ugly Reality of Short Leashed vs. Free-range Kids

By Zerline Hughes

Just after nightfall, I sent my son out to the mailbox that hangs on the front of our home to get the mail. I deliberated for a good minute whether or not to ask him to retrieve the day’s mail, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to get up from the couch. When the door closed behind him, I started to panic and I cried.

Just 24 hours earlier, a neighbor emailed our community listserv. The subject line: My kids caught in crossfire of drive-by shooting Saturday. The contents of the email explained that just four blocks away in our tiny neighborhood was a gun fight. This was during our neighbors’ outdoor kids birthday party. During a Sunday afternoon where kids were at the neighborhood park that I’ve been advocating for and writing about recently. No one was physically hurt, but the family and the children that had to duck, cover, hit the pavement are definitely experiencing mental trauma. And apparently, so am I.

dangerfreerangeSo maybe now you’ll get why These Two aren’t the free-range children that I’d like them to be. Maybe now you’ll stop wondering when you hear that many of our young Black men are not trained to take out the trash, help ladies across the street and the elderly with their groceries. That’s the good stuff of yesteryear when there was no threat of getting jumped, shot, or “fitting the description” once they opened the door to their home.
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Social Media Coupled with Community Partnership Can Solve Injustice

By Zerline Hughes

playgroundtwoIn my work over the last 10 years in criminal and juvenile justice, getting a win has been piecemeal and quite the challenge. We often have to dig for wins in a published opinion editorial, in an email from a policymaker offering kudos on a report we released, or a tweet from a celebrity championing our cause and reusing a hashtag we created.

And on those few occasions, like with the Second Chance Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, Ban the Box, and Raise the Age policy recommendations, reform was reached through actual legislation change. It may not have been the exact legislation we wanted. For example, instead of moving from a 100:1 crack/cocaine sentencing ratio to a 1:1 ratio, we moved to 20:1. Another case: raising the age for “criminal responsibility” to age 21 in some states only ended up being raised to age 17 or 18. Nonetheless, there was definite movement in our favor on the scales of justice.

So, on a smaller, more local and personal scale, I’m proud to say that my social media and communications efforts have positively impacted justice in my own neighborhood community. And it only took a small team of less than 10 people to make it happen (just a tad bit different than the social justice work I’m used to where a team of about 50 national nonprofits supported by grants totaling millions from another 20 foundations strategize and execute long-term plans to enact major change).

Earlier this month, I noticed that our local park playground equipment was gone. No notice. No sign. No plan to replace Kenilworth-Parkside Park with … you know, park-like stuff so kids would actually wanna’ hang out there and not in the streets getting into trouble. And the part that made me so upset was that it was just weeks before summer break where kids have out of school time to make use of, and when the weather is perfect for park visits.
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Is it Just Me or is that Racist?

By Zerline Hughes

I’m real quick to point out disparity in anything. Especially when it comes to race. This time, however, I left it up to my son to point out the disparity – or not.

You’ve probably already heard about the Red Cross and their swim safety poster:


A tweet about the poster went viral, screaming that it was “super racist.” I took a look and said, “oh yeeeaaah” I wondered, though, had I received one in the mail, seen it posted at a local pool, if I would have even paid enough attention to see what the tweeter was talking about. But after honing in on it I did.

Still, I wanted to know what others thought so I asked my 13-year-old son. Now, he always knows when I approach him that a “life lesson” is soon to come, so I tried to keep it calm and cool and asked him to take a look and simply comment on it.

Guess what? He saw it, too. “All the Black kids are the ones doing the bad things,” he said.

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The Dreaded Call from Summer Overnight Camp

By Zerline Hughes
rusticsI just got a call from my son’s overnight camp. My heart beating faster and faster as the voice on the other end introduces himself, I’m thinking his asthma flared up or he broke his leg. I already fast forwarded to me driving 40 miles up/down to wherever he is in the woods to save him. Damn!
The voice on the call is too slow. He introduces himself, asks my name twice and finally says: “This is not an emergency call.” Phew. Okay. Heart slowing down back to normal, I think, “then why are you calling?” I’m quieter than normal, waiting with bated breath to get to the point of the call. Of course, me being the conclusion jumper that I am, I figured my 13 year old wasn’t making friends; the other campers hate him. He does tend to be a loner, more appreciating the company of adults.
Luckily my negative thoughts were again interrupted when the caller, John, finally broke the news to me.

“Your son is doing great, having a good time and enjoying all the activities.” What? An unsolicited call from a caretaker telling you how good things are going for your kid? Where they do that at? Apparently, they do that at YMCA’s Camp Letts!

Have You Seen My Children’s Childhood? Or Maybe Just Their Playground Equipment?

playgroundtwoBy Zerline Hughes

It wasn’t my effort to make the NotTheseTwo blog a rant about the lack of community services in my city  – and particularly my community – BUT, there is, in fact, a distinct connection between keeping kids from falling in the at-risk category and the services and activities they have access to.

So, I’ll continue with today’s rant … er, I mean blog, but I’ll try to keep it short.

While walking to the Kenilworth-Parkside track this past weekend to jog-walk-sprint my meager mile, I noticed a vast parkland – much different than before. No swings. No slide (or sliding board as they say here in D.C.). No jungle gym. Not even the 1970s looking dinosaur climbing animals.

So I went to my trusty community listserv and asked what had happened. The answer was brief: there was an email that the playground equipment would be taken away. The answer: there was no date or promise on when and whether they’d be replaced. I don’t know who “they” were, and I don’t know who “they” consulted.

But hey, it all makes sense, right? Especially since DC Public Schools goes on summer break in three weeks and our kids will need a place to play during out-of-school time. Especially because there’s been a spike in crime in our Ward over the last two months and our kids need a safe, alternative space to hang out and be a kid. Especially since the closed Kenilworth Elementary School playground was just knocked down as it undergoes renovation to be turned into our community’s Department of Parks and Recreation center after ours was knocked down six years ago with promises to replace it by 2012, then 2014 now 2017 … (I’ve got major issues with this rec center!)

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