This Takes ‘Fashion Police’ to a Whole New Level

A little-known law is the key to a new war on—wait for it—saggy pants.

A little-known law in Massachusetts involving openly “lewd and lascivious behavior” is the lynchpin of a new war on saggy pants from the Black Mental Health Alliance of Massachusetts (BMHAM). BMHAM is trying to use this law—which says we can arrest, fine and even imprison someone for “gross” public exposure—to crack down on people who wear their pants too low.

BMHAM posted this information in a public service announcement on YouTube. According to Dr. Omar Reid, President and Founder of BMHAM, the group plans to post pictures like this one on billboards across Boston to threaten a $300 fine and/or up to three years in prison for “urban youth” who aren’t pulling up their britches. Reid sees saggy pants as a sign of lacking self-respect, and also apparently, of lewd and lascivious behavior.

Reid said in an interview that his non-profit organization, which “began in 2003 or 2004,” is a statewide group of Black and Latino mental health practitioners with 15 or so on his Board of Directors. But a look at the organization’s website doesn’t list the name of a single one. The group doesn’t even identify a mailing address.

Carl Williams, a defense attorney who has lived and worked in Roxbury for most of his life, said that he had never heard of BMHAM. “If you ask people in the Roxbury community what they’re worried about, people say things like Cori reform, safe, affordable, healthy public transportation, police brutality—community led issues. I’ve been to a lot of meetings, and no one has mentioned pants.”

Jarmahl Crawford, publisher and editor of the Boston newspaper Blackstonian wrote about the campaign in an editor’s note: “We do not need any additional tools for law enforcement … to further racially profile, harass, search, arrest and incarcerate black and Latino boys (and now even some girls too).”

In a press release, BMHAM states “The purpose of the video is not to encourage the arrest of young people wearing sagging pants or to profile African Americans,” but to “make them aware that this behavior is not appropriate or acceptable.”

Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, put it this way: “Is it any wonder that America has an incarceration crisis? Even well-meaning Massachusetts do-gooders … are totally nonplussed by the notion of 3 years in prison as an okay possibility for pants sagging.”

In February 2005, Virginia tried to pass the droopy drawers bill, but it landed with a thud and was killed two days after being filed. New York Sen. Eric Adams, a former NYPD cop, is trying to get schools to outlaw sagging pants in the classroom. His slogan is “If we raise our pants, we raise our image.” You can’t make these things up. It all begs the same question: Who decides if saggy pants are appropriate or acceptable?

“That’s our culture, youth culture, hip-hop culture,” says Williams. “And it’s not something we should be embarrassed about.”