Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
Yes, this is really a thing.
In a post Tuesday about a proposal to outlaw sagging pants and miniskirts in Dadeville, Alabama, I presented a hypothetical scenario of how such laws contribute to racial disparities in incarceration rates, among other consequences:
Today it might be a $50 fine for wearing a too-short skirt, but an unpaid fine could lead to an arrest warrant, which could lead to jail time, which ends up affecting everything from a person’s employability to their ability to serve on a jury.
Lest anyone think that was an exaggeration, something like this played out just recently in Raymond, Mississippi. As the Jackson Free Press reported, engineering student Akinola Gonzalez was stopped by college police on his school campus for walking with his pants sagging, a violation of the school’s policy. As a police report notes, Gonzalez complied with the security officials’ request to pull his pants up. But what happened afterward is an example of how such policies can become a pretext for unnecessary police entanglements.
Gonzalez reportedly failed to produce an ID when an officer asked for it (or at least questioned why he had to produce it), which led to his arrest, and later, after some other alleged insubordination, a strip search, and an overnight stay in the Hinds County Detention Center. According to an online petition from Gonzalez’s sister Dara Cooper, the police heckled him about his ability to post bond, and he was transferred the next day to a penal farm.
The student’s family eventually posted bond, and his college eventually cleared him of the dress code violation he was initially stopped for, the Jackson Free Press reports. But he still faces criminal charges from the police for failing to comply with their orders.
This is how something as preposterous sounding as a sagging-pants-to-prison pipeline comes into being: Gonzalez spent a night in a detention center that the U.S. Justice Department just settled with Wednesday over its record of sexual abuse and excessive use of force. He lost additional class and study time while placed on the farm. And his ordeal is still not over.
These policies themselves are dressed in the notion that people should look more “respectable” in public. The policies don’t, however, seem to respect how unforgiving the criminal justice system can be once a person is ensnared in it.