Anti-saggy-pants ordinance passed in Wildwood

A wide variety of sartorial styles is on display on the boardwalk in Wildwood. A proposed ordinance would ban sagging pants and going shirtless after sunset, or shoeless anytime. Violators could pay $25; repeat offenders, possibly more. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
A wide variety of sartorial styles is on display on the boardwalk in Wildwood. A proposed ordinance would ban sagging pants and going shirtless after sunset, or shoeless anytime. Violators could pay $25; repeat offenders, possibly more. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 14, 2013

WILDWOOD - An ordinance approved Wednesday by local officials to make those on the boardwalk pull up their pants - billed as a way to promote decency in this honky-tonk Jersey Shore town - is a violation of constitutional and civil rights, says the American Civil Liberties Union.

Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU in Newark, said the agency would consider a lawsuit to stop the city from targeting youths - particularly minorities - who might be partial to wearing pants so loose that their underwear, or worse, shows.

"This ordinance raises some very serious constitutional concerns. Bad taste is not a crime. . . . The police shouldn't be the fashion police," Ofer said hours before the City Commission unanimously approved the ordinance, which also requires shoes and shirts on the boardwalk after dark.

Ofer said he was concerned that the ordinance "could be easily used as a back door" - no pun intended - "to racial profiling" when police begin enforcing it July 2. It carries fines of between $25 and $200 and 40 hours of community service. Violators will first be asked to simply pull up their pants or leave the boardwalk. If they refuse, a summons will be issued.

Mayor Ernie Troiano said he was unconcerned about the threat of a lawsuit, contending that the rights of others to expect decency in public and "not have to look at someone else's underwear" were his main interests.

Officials said so many people told Troiano that they found the trend - embraced by the hip-hop movement and called "sagging" - offensive that they decided to address it. The fashion originated in the prison system; prisoners are not permitted to wear belts.

"It's amazing - and this is a pun - how far decency has fallen through the cracks," Troiano said after the ordinance passed. "We're not trying to set the world on fire. We're just trying to give a little better appearance to the city of Wildwood."

During a hearing, residents said they were in favor of the ordinance, while Troiano noted that he had received dozens of e-mails from as far away as Oklahoma and Texas backing a stricter dress code. He was scheduled for a late-night interview with the BBC.

"It's long overdue," said resident Mary Erceg. "People who choose to dress like that offend any person. There has to be some common standard of decency. It offends all of us . . . and this is about time for this town."

Some residents questioned how police would be trained to enforce the new law.

"They'll be trained to know [indecency] when they see it," said City Commissioner Anthony Leonetti.

And that's what most concerned Ofer, who predicted that the law would be overturned if challenged in court. Similar regulations were defeated in Louisiana and Indiana, but exist in Chicago and Florida.

"Even if you think saggy pants are in bad taste, they shouldn't be considered a crime," Ofer said, comparing the regulation to the 1960s, when authorities considered men's having long hair to be a criminal act. "Litigation against this ordinance is certainly something we are considering."


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo

at 609652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo. Read the Shore blog, "Downashore,"

at philly.com/downashore.

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