CHICAGO -- When police arrived outside a Lynwood, Ill., party last month to check for curfew violators, Bowen High School student Cantrell Tremble, 18, wasn't worried about getting a ticket. So he was surprised when police cited him for the way he wore his pants.
"(The officer) looked and saw ... I was sagging," Tremble said recently. "It's very unfair. Everybody dresses the same way."
While the case against Tremble was dropped after the ticketing officer didn't appear at a hearing, a Chicago Tribune review of police records found that south suburban Lynwood is assessing fines as high as $750 for those caught wearing sagging pants on public property. Police, who say the $750 fines were made in error, more commonly assess fines of $50 to $250.
Lynwood in 2008 was the first Chicago suburb to enact a ban on low-hanging pants, but others have followed suit. The most recent was neighboring Sauk Village, which in March outlawed pants that hang more than 4 inches off the hip. Last month, downstate Collinsville narrowly approved its own saggy-pants ordinance.
"It's not right," said Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams of the fashion. "It's ugly and stupid. Can't you respect my little kid or my mother when you're out? I wouldn't walk around my own house with my pants hanging down -- why do I have to accept that out in public?"
The Illinois ACLU criticized the ordinance as racial profiling when it was enacted, but has yet to challenge it in court. Williams, who is black and grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes, said the law doesn't target only African-American men. He has also seen white and Hispanic youths in town with their pants sagging, he said.
Police did not provide the race of those who have been ticketed.
For Lynwood leaders, the ordinance is a way to take a stand against a fashion many find offensive or indecent. The small bedroom community of neatly kept homes and a single strip mall takes pride in itself, Williams said.
"This ordinance works in Lynwood," said Williams. "You don't have to run around with the saggy-pants patrol. Everybody in our town knows (the law)."
Though the fashion has been around for two decades, the last few years have seen a legislative backlash. Some of it may be generational, with baby boomers whose bell bottoms ruffled their parents' feathers now irritated by young men exposing their underwear in public.
Chicago suburbs from Evanston to Midlothian have considered such bans. And towns in states across the country continue to pass them, including earlier this month the small Georgia town of Jonesboro, which bills itself as "The Official Home of 'Gone With the Wind' " and was reportedly concerned about what sagging pants may do to its tourism industry.
Lawmakers in Virginia and Louisiana considered statewide bans.
In May, the public bus system in Fort Worth, Texas, said its drivers would start turning away passengers who refused to pull up their pants. A spokeswoman said the policy change has been welcomed by "our non-saggy-pants riders."
Florida recently enacted a "Pull Up Your Pants" bill, requiring school districts in the Sunshine State to discipline students who wear "clothing that exposes underwear." Pastors have reportedly marched the streets of Winston-Salem urging residents to "pull them up," and a South Carolina man recently released a children's book entitled "Oliver Vance Pull Up Your Pants!"
The issue even came up during Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. "I think passing a law about people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time," Obama told MTV. "Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants."
It's unclear what effect the new laws have. Lynwood has cited one man three times in 2008 and 2009 for wearing saggy pants. The man could not be reached by the Tribune.
The town has issued about 40 tickets under the ordinance. So far, this year is shaping up to be the busiest. At least 15 tickets for low-hanging pants have been written, more than the past two years combined.
For critics, even 40 tickets out of the thousands officers write each year is too many. Lynwood records show that 10 cases, in which fines of $100 or $250 were assessed, have been put out to collections. Only two saggy-pants offenders have paid their fines, records show. The village ordinance allows for fines from $25 to $200. A hearing officer determines the amount.
"When you start to criminalize dress codes and suggest that the police are now responsible in some ways for how people are dressed on the streets, I think it's very troubling," said Ed Yohnka, Illinois ACLU spokesman.
Markham resident Raymond Shegog, 18, recently arrived for a court hearing at Lynwood village hall dressed neatly in a blue polo shirt and baggy blue jeans. The hearing officer, after noting "I see that you've got your pants up today," dismissed the case when the police officer didn't appear, urging Shegog to use the $50 he could have been fined to "buy a belt."
Outside village hall, Shegog said he'll simply avoid Lynwood in the future.
"My pants were sagging, but you couldn't even see my butt because I had my leather jacket on," he said.
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