Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lafourche Faux Pas

So, how exactly does a place indicate that it is decidedly intolerant of the personal choices of its residents? Simple. It legislates to ban such choices, and then it dares its residents to pursue them with the threat of punitive fines.

Such is the case of Lafourche Parish and its disdain for by-products of the hip-hop culture. Apparently frustrated by the sight of young men with sagging trousers, the Lafourche Parish Council, a governing body never known for progressive thinking, voted to ban the look. The law, at its maximum, would tack on a fine of as much as $100 and 16 hours of community services. That may not seem like much, but for a young person, it is enough of a cash outflow and a commitment of time to notice.

To be sure, the approval of this ban came with a split 5-to-4 vote, and the legislation awaits the signature of the parish president, before it can be deemed a law. Nevertheless, just the consideration of such a law still speaks volumes about the myopic and stubbornly backward mindset of many of Lafourche's leaders.

I am not a fan of the sagging pants look, personally, because it usually does not fit into my typical GQ image, but from time to time, my pants are a little lose. And as I think of how this law could impact a generation of young people, I am a bit thunderstruck. For Lafourche Parish, which plays home to Nicholls State U. and to a few of the area's more popular haunts in Thibodaux, this is a really bad move that could lead to a lot of problems. Citations will fly like confetti, and I have to wonder who will be the majority of its recipients.

For the council members in Lafourche Parish, there are a few major factors that should have been considered:

---No government has ever, and will never, be able to legislate morality. Worse still, they would be even more hard-pressed to legislate matters of taste. Many of these council members have forgotten that fashions are fickle, and in time, they do change (without the help of lawmakers). And thank God for that---otherwise we probably would have to sport the long shaggy hair and flowing knits of the hippie era, which, if these leaders will recall, were not appreciated in their time, either.

---Fashions, regardless of how conservative or radical, are still deemed a matter of self-expression, and as such, are afforded protections by the nice, little document called the Constitution. In the event that these council members have forgotten, the First Amendment of that document says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Implicit in this text is a freedom of expression that protects ideas beyond their verbal form. What's more, by not providing an absolute way for measuring the transgression, the lawmakers have left this ban largely to the judgment of police officers. Thus, when inconsistencies do arise in the issuance of these citations---and they will---Lafourche will be looking at violations of the Fourth Amendment and at other allegations of discrimination. Groups like the ACLU and the NAACP will move in with the precision and speed on lions on the prowl, and they will force the parish to bleed its coffers, in order to get this embarrassing issue to go away.

---And lastly it is particularly interesting that these leaders have deemed the enemy in their midst to be young kids with sagging pants, when there are so many other issues for them to tackle. For instance, the parish president is barely surfacing from her own scandal. Then there is the major necessity of clearly defining its boundaries with Terrebonne Parish, which affects so many taxpayers in Bayou Blue and Grand Bois. Alternatively, one can say that they need to focus more of their own attention on levee maintenance and drainage issues, or on the declination to accept FEMA advisory flood elevations, or on over-budgeted libraries, or on whatever else...The point is simple. That this council presumes that these children pose any significant harm to their own community demonstrates a sense of wrong-headed and backward ideology; more importantly, it is a waste of time, and it is a vast distraction from the real issues in that community.

Perhaps, if the leaders in Lafourche Parish do not consider these points, then the people will. And if they were smart, then they will oust those five who took it upon themselves to become the fashion police.

No, it might not be a tasteful or proper way to wear one's pants---but I will contend, here, that it is also not politically rational to go after someone for such trivialities. This is a dangerous course for Lafourche Parish, and when it is all said and done, it could become a very expensive one, as well. That is simply because, as sure as citations may fly today, an array of lawsuits will undoubtedly follow tomorrow.



John Alex said...

As one of those "kids", I totally agree with you, Gary. Who are these people to tell me how to dress? Maybe if they would stop worrying about the wrong shit, then we would get things done. Or maybe they are incapable of getting things done, so they have to create other problems that really were not problems at all. Hm.

Rebecca said...

I do not like to see it when people have their pants sagging below their asses, but like you, I am unsure if I can support this type of ban. It seems that no one pays attention to the fact that these people will have to grow up, get real jobs, and adopt a decent appearance. It is likely that they will grow out of it on their own, and governments probably do not need to assume another paternal role in the lives of its people.

Digger said...

G, you really know how to crush 'em with words, eh? And I thought that, as a Repub, you'd support something like this, no? How is it you would advocate this kind of loose morality? Anyway I don't know if I can say I agree here. If you do not draw a line, then where's it end? Will we see girls strolling around with their asses cheeks hanging out? I know that there are risks in combatting this phenomenon, but perhaps for the sake of decency some government should take them.

Taylor L. said...

I read this op-ed, and then I think of my brother who is notorious for his own sagging pants. I know that the first thing out of people's mouths is the word "thug"--but John has never been in trouble. He just likes that look. It is not flattering, but it is a part of his self-expression. You are right in saying that people like him are not the enemy here, and I think that when others assume that they are, those people come to their senses. Compelling folks to raise their pants will not change the hearts and minds of the ones intent on becoming a threat. In fact, there are just as many criminals in Armani suits as there are in FUBU jeans. We just do not talk about them, probably because they contribute to and control political campaigns. And speaking of campaigns, isn't it an election year in Lafourche Parish? Wow, I think that I understand now.

Tye said...

Big props for this one, Gary! Way to put the haters in their place. I want somebody to call me a thug, be/c they don't like my style. They don't know me. I have a really good job; I am a good parent; I pay my taxes; I own my home; and I do for my community. Who are these narrow-minded bumpkins to judge me? When exactly did God give them the gift of absolute moral clarity? This is just another prejudice moment brought to you by a bunch of ignorant people.

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