Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.
A Boston non-profit pushes the city to enforce the state's "chastity, morality, decency, and good order" laws more forcefully. What is the world coming to?
In the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the "Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency, and Good Order" encompasses more than one hundred subsections of crimes. All manner of nonsense is contained therein, but today we must restrict ourselves to discussing Section 16. It says, under the headline "Open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior," that "a man or woman, married or unmarried, who is guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars."
What prompted this foray into an obscure state law?
A public service announcement that the Black Mental Health Alliance of Massachusetts is running in the Boston area. It approvingly cites the law I've just mentioned it in support of the proposition that young men sagging their pants could spend up to 3 years in a state prison as punishment:
Color me skeptical that the Massachusetts criminal justice system would ever actually imprison someone for pants-sagging (though stories of young men being fined hundreds of dollars for having their underpants showing aren't actually unusual. Apparently it can be a cash cow). I plan to investigate how frequently pants sagging is actually punished at all in Boston.
Meanwhile, I want to say this: shame on you, Black Mental Health Alliance of Massachusetts. Shame, shame, shame. The proper response, if you earnestly think that a law puts young males who sag their pants at risk of a three year prison sentence, is to protest the absurd injustice. What sort of community organization celebrates the alleged possibility of that punishment?
Their web site has a statement that sheds additional light on the situation. The statement is a bit unwieldy, but I promise that if you read to the end of it you won't be disappointed by the kicker:
The video targeted to young urban dwellers in Massachusetts is the brainchild of Dr. Omar Reid, President and Founder of BMHAM... the video's purpose is to address the growing issue of young men walking in the streets of our communities without regard and respect for themselves and their community. "For the BMHAM it's a behavioral health issue in our neighborhoods and communities that must be addressed the entire community," says Dr. Reid. "This is just the beginning of our public strategy to encourage parents, schools, police, social service agencies, housing agencies, faith based organizations along with men and women in our community to take a collective stand and tell our young men and boys to pull those pants up," said Reid.
Dr. Reid says he plans to expand running the videos and others anti-saggy pants information into other Massachusetts TV, radio, internet and billboard markets, including Springfield, Brockton, Lawrence and other parts of the state. The group also plans to create giant billboards targeted to the saggy pants trend. Dr. Reid and his BMHAM organization are planning a fundraising campaign to pay for videos and billboards. Like the video, each billboard will feature two male models whose pants are hanging so low their underwear is showing.
They're so put off by having to see pant-sagging on the street that they plan to purchase multiple giant billboards showing exposed underpants to all who pass! You can't make this stuff up.
Is it any wonder that America has an incarceration crisis? Even well-meaning Massachusetts do-gooders, who self-describe as "the primary and collective voice of Black Americans, ethnic cultural groups and poor people who may not be represented at the mental health policy table," are totally nonplussed by the notion of 3 years in prison as an okay possibility for pants sagging.
To punish it with fines should be an outrage.
As a point of contrast, I couldn't help but think of this story, from a largely white, affluent Boston institution:
Thousands of not-so-bashful Northeastern University students stripped to their bras, panties and boxer shorts last weekend and jogged down Huntington Avenue as part of the traditional Underwear Run.The Friday night fun run started on a campus quad, continued through other parts of the Fenway campus, through traffic down Huntington Avenue and then through the Prudential Center mall.
It was the 7th year for the event.
I would laugh my head off if this item resulted in the Black Mental Health Alliance of Massachusetts buying an additional billboard where co-ed models depict the Northeastern Underwear Run.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.