By John Schaffner
Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin told a national TV news audience he wanted to start a dialogue about decent public dress when he introduced legislation to make illegal exposing boxer shorts, thongs and even bra straps in any public place in Atlanta.
Just the fact that he was being interviewed early in the morning on the Today Show about his proposed ordinance proved he did indeed start a dialogue.
The target of his ordinance is young men who wear their pants low off their hips to show off the pairs of boxer shorts they wear beneath their saggy pants. Sometimes the boxers end up sagging a bit also, exposing even more.
The ordinance of Councilman Martin, a college recruitment consultant, states that saggy pants are an “epidemic” that are becoming a “major concern” in cities and states around the country.
Martin claims little children see it and want to adopt it, “thinking it’s the in thing. I don’t want young people thinking that half-dressing is the way to go. I want them to think about their future,” he states.
Women also cannot reveal the strap of a thong beneath their pants, according to the ordinance. Nor could they wear jogging bras in public or show off any part of a bra strap, according to Debbie Seagraves of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
The ordinance immediately drew the cries from some of just another form of racially profiling black people.
Others claimed it is simply a fashion statement and fads and fashion cannot be legislated by government. It is attacking people’s freedom of expression.
The proposed ordinance states that “the indecent exposure of his or her undergarments” would be unlawful in a public place. It would be included in the same portion of the city code that outlaws sex in public and exposure or fondling of genitals and the breast of a woman.
Martin doesn’t seek to throw people in jail for violating his ordinance, but he does propose the penalty be a fine, which would have to be determined.
There is expectation that legislation that creates a public dress code would not survive a court challenge and Martin has said he understands that likely is true. He also understands it would be a difficult law to enforce. But he still wants the dialogue on the issue and the way he sees to get that is by introducing this ordinance.
Martin, who is African-American and who represents a district of the city that has its share of crime problems, said he intends to convene public hearings and vet the proposal through churches, civil rights groups and neighborhood organizations. The proposal already had its first airing Aug. 28 before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
“The purpose of the paper is to generate some conversation to see if we can find a solution,” Martin said.