Atlanta Councilman Wants to Ban Saggy Pants, Exposed Bra Straps

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 23, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JOHN GIBSON, "BIG STORY" HOST: It is the "Big Crackdown" on sagging pants, that urban fashion trend where men wear their pants so loose they sag somewhere south of their boxers. Sagging offends one Atlanta, Georgia, councilman so much he wants to make it illegal. And Councilman C.T. Martin isn't stopping there. He's also taking aim at women who leave the house with their bra straps showing or, let's say, their thong. Mr. Martin isn't the first local politician to seek action against half dressing. The town of Mansfield, Louisiana, just put a law on its books: pull them up or pay up, with fines up to $150.

Do these laws violate free speech? With me now is Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, professor of urban studies at Temple University.

So, Dr. Hill, it is not a credible claim, is it, to say that these laws violate the rights of free speech?

DR. MARC LAMONT HILL, URBAN STUDIES PROFESSOR, TEMPLE UNIV.: I think they do. I think the Constitution affords us the right to express ourselves, to be who we want to be. Of course we don't want to be indecent, we don't want to be lewd, but I don't think that having pants south of — not our boxers — but of our waistline is lewd or anything like that. I think it's something we should allow.

GIBSON: I'm trying to determine the distinction you make. I'm looking at pictures of guys that wear their pants so virtually all of the boxers show. The pants are cinched up under their buttocks, to put it nicely. Can't I claim that is an indecent exposure?

HILL: I don't think so. I think you always have to look at things within a context. This is not intended to show the buttocks per se; it's a fashion statement. It's a response to many of the type clothes that hip-hoppers wore in the 80s. There are a whole lot of reasons why people wear sagging clothes. None of it is intended to be indecent. I think if we look at youth culture in its context, we won't find it to be true.

GIBSON: Right, but what about just plain old standards. I mean, Dr. Hill, with all due respect, you're sitting there in a suit…

HILL: But my pants are below my knees right now.

GIBSON: They are?

HILL: No, I'm just kidding.

GIBSON: Well I'll ask that camera to pan down. I will bet you are not sagging. Sagging is an affront to this society. It's a way of showing you don't buy into the society at large…

HILL: And we have a right to do that.

GIBSON: Do we really want to encourage kids to do that?

HILL: Absolutely. You see, John, always youth have demonstrated behaviors that challenge the rules and norms of society. Whether it's Elvis' swiveling hips or whether it's baggy jeans, we have always challenged society and people have always called it lewd. And then in retrospect we appeal to those days and say, I wish people were as nice as Elvis or I wish people were as nice as the 70s for god's sake.

GIBSON: Do you think anybody is going to say bring back the days of those sagging pants?

HILL: They just might, you never know. No one could imagine that people would say bring back the disco era or bring back Elvis' swiveling hips at the time. The same thing is going to happen with this, I guarantee you. It's just a moral panic.

GIBSON: Let's cut to the bottom line here. What really is going on is authorities, in this case a guy in Atlanta, a city councilman in Atlanta, is fighting hip-hop culture.

HILL: Exactly.

GIBSON: And gangsta culture and this is the most outward sign of that that they can get their hands on. Shouldn't Atlanta do precisely that?

HILL: No, we have to stop this language of containment and blame and criminalization of young people. If we want to talk to young people, we need to talk to them, we need to nurture them, we need to explain to them why it might be beneficial to pull their pants up on job interviews or why young girls don't want to see themselves as sex objects and showing their thongs all the time. It's a conversation we have to have, but we can't criminalize it. That's the problem.

GIBSON: But isn't the only method you have of having that conversation is criminalizing it first and conversing later? Isn't it true that every one of those people I'm looking at right now with their pants sagging won't listen to either me or you?

HILL: I'm not sure that's true. I think the other problem here is that we often stereotype people who wear their pants down. There are many people who wear their pants down. I attended an Ivy League university and there are many people who had their pants sagging and they still did just fine in life.

GIBSON: Well they should be busted especially.

HILL: Oh, no, no, no. The point here is that there's a wide range of personalities, identities, values, morals that accompany this fashion trend. We've decided to criminalize because we're scared of it. What we need to do is listen to young people, learn from young people and teach young people. But criminalizing their behavior won't allow that to happen.

GIBSON: Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, thanks very much. The staff loves you; you've got to come back.

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