ATLANTA – Striped underpants peeked out of 19-year-old Jae Cripe's outfit as she took a stand Tuesday at an Atlanta City Council meeting next to a sign that proclaimed: "Clothes are not a crime."
Across the crowded room, 76-year-old James Allen was making his own statement, talking about the start of a "belt brigade" that could one day patrol the streets to urge kids to pull up their baggy pants.
It was a snapshot of the brewing debate in Atlanta over a measure that would outlaw baggy pants that show boxer shorts or thongs. Offenders would risk a civil penalty — likely a fine — but no jail time, said the proposal's sponsor, councilman C.T. Martin.
"We cannot continue to allow our community standards to go astray, and not stand up," he said.
Critics have claimed the measure is a new form of racial profiling that would allow police to target young black males who wear their pants far below the beltline.
"These are the hope of the future of young black men. They look at you as role models," resident Kim Bryant told the panel. "Yet you'd be willing to put them in jail because they didn't wear a belt."
But if Tuesday's hearing was any indication, the divide appears to center on age, not race. The bill's sponsors are black council members, and most of the supporters who spoke were aging residents who peppered their speeches with anecdotes of the civil rights movement.
"I don't think we're doing our ancestors due justice for some of the things we are doing today. It's time for us to push back," said Lonnie King, an Atlanta resident. "We cannot afford to let young people decide what's best for our community. Young people have a lot of good ideas, but we cannot allow them to denigrate our society."
The critics, including Cripe, a white woman who stood silently in the back of the room with her striped underwear on display, tended to be younger.
"It should be my personal choice what to wear," said Jimmy Person, 34. "Maybe young people should be more tasteful. But let young people decide for themselves."
R.E. Williams, a veteran Atlanta police officer, said he views the saggy pants trend as a measure of sorts because "the lower the pants are, the lower the self-esteem."
"It's a downright disgrace to walk into a classroom with your pants around your ankles," he said. "We need to let them know they are somebody — that they can rise above the occasion."
Atlanta would not be the first city to ban saggy pants. Earlier this year, the town council in Delcambre, La., passed an ordinance that carries a fine as high as $500 or six months in jail for exposing underwear in public. Several other Louisiana governments have followed suit in recent months.
A similar proposal in Stratford, Conn., was soundly rejected this week by officials after critics claimed it would be unconstitutional and unfairly target minorities.
The Atlanta measure will likely face another hearing before it comes to a vote, and some sponsors say it is already starting a debate that's long overdue in the city's schools, community centers and churches.
"If nothing else, it's a great part of a conversation we need to have," said council member Joyce Sheperd.Click here for a video report on this story at MyFoxAtlanta.