As It Happens

Why a Louisiana councillor is trying to repeal her city's 'saggy pants' law

Shreveport, La., city councillor LeVette Fuller is working to repeal a law in her city that outlaws "saggy pants" — which almost exclusively targets young black men — after a fatal police chase.

It comes after a fatal police chase over a 'saggy pants' violation

Two young men with low-slung, baggy jeans walk in Trenton, N.J., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2007. A city councillor in Shreveport, La., is working to repeal her city's 'saggy pants' law. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

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A Louisiana city councillor is working to repeal a law in her city that outlaws "saggy pants" — which almost exclusively targets young black men — after a fatal police chase. 

On Feb. 5, Anthony Childs died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a police chase. It started after a police officer saw that he was in violation of the law. 

Since 2007, the town of Shreveport has enforced an ordinance which prohibits wearing pants below the waist in public. It is punishable by a $100 US fine and eight hours of community service. 

LeVette Fuller spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why she is working to repeal the law. Here is part of that conversation. 

Why do you want to repeal this "saggy pants" law?

I'd completely forgotten that it was on the books until a group of people who were challenging ... findings of a police involved shooting that ended in the death of a civilian.

And they came to the city council meeting and said that this gentleman was originally detained by the police because he was in violation of a sagging pants ordinance.

What happened to Anthony Childs?

Anthony was in his neighborhood on one of the main streets and ... I believe he noticed that the police officer saw him and he took off running.

It seems that he manoeuvred toward a gun that he had on him, took the gun out. The police officer is said to have told him to put the gun down and they ended up engaging in gunfire.

LeVette Fuller, a Shreveport councilwoman, has moved to repeal the saggy pants ordinance, which almost exclusively targets young black men. (Submitted by Shannon Palmer)

And according to the reports, Anthony Childs's fatal wound was self-inflicted. But the police officer shot his gun about eight or nine times.

He was being pursued by the police officer because he had been stopped for having saggy pants. Is that right?

That is the report that was given to the citizens group that wants to have a citizens' review board in our city for police activity.

In February, after Mr. Childs was found out dead, the reason for the stop wasn't told. They kept it under lock for a while. So it's only been after a couple of months that they've come out and said that's a reason for the stop was that he was in violation of the sagging pants ordinance.

And what is that?

In hip hop culture, it became stylish to wear your pants low, sometimes with a baggy T-shirt.

It's distasteful mostly to older generations. I don't particularly care for it … but people found it so distasteful, they felt that the only way they can control it is through the legal system.

What did you discover about who has been stopped for a "saggy pants" ordinance? 

I discovered that 96 per cent of the stops that ended with a citation were African-American and the majority of those were men. There might have been a couple of women and then the rest of the percentage would be Hispanic or white.

And then with juvenile cases, 100 per cent were African-American.

How often was this ordinance used as the pretext for stopping somebody in order to racially profile them?

Based on the narrative I've received from our police chief, I'm being led to believe that quite a few more where there was no citation for saggy pants … but then there was some other charge after that.

So they would be stopped for this ordinance, which carries with it a fine and community service. But somehow this ordinance would lead to a warrant and would lead to ending up doing time. How did that happen?

What's interesting is that there is an amendment on the original law in 2007 ...  that this law should not be used as a pretext. So I don't know when this started.

But the original stop would happen, and then they would find usually guns, like a stop-and-frisk would occur, and that would be what the final warrant might be for.

Sam Anderson, 17 , shows the waist line of his shorts as Varry Richardson, right, looks on while the two stand outside a corner grocery store on Pierre Ave in Shreveport, La., Aug. 18, 2007. (Douglas Collier/Associated Press)

What is now going to happen with this law in Shreveport?

Well, we have had our initial reading to put it on the agenda. And [soon] we will vote either in favour of the repeal or against the repeal.

I believe that I have the votes to repeal it. And our mayor supports the repeal as well.

What kind of response are you getting?

I'm getting mostly a positive response, but of course the things that stand out are the negative comments that you get. I've received voicemail messages from as far away as New York City, people asking how I would like it if they ran down my street or my mother's street in their underwear.

But for the most part I'm hearing a lot of positive feedback. People that don't like it, but they feel that this is potentially a violation of people's constitutional rights. 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from Associated Press. Produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.