The Center for Church and Prison, Inc. responds to the Black Mental Health Alliance’s “Saggy Pants” Campaign

By the Rev. George Walters-Sleyon

The issue of Saggy pants is not a criminal issue. It should not be criminalized. Wearing Saggy pants reflects a grave social dilemma in the American sociopolitical and economic consciousness. While the intention to advocate for appropriate dressing and appearance is worth commending, The Black Mental Health Alliance should take caution and be careful before their method and approach lead to more mental health cases as it is already in the Black Community as a result of Mass Black Incarceration. To criminalize Saggy pants is to criminalize the action and the perpetrators.

Historically, punishing crimes in the United States have been divided along racial lines. Black men, women and youths have historically filled the prisons and jails across the United States and consist of the highest amount of individuals caught in the United States criminal justice and prison systems. The campaign by The Black Mental Health Alliance criminalizes the perpetrators, providing them with criminal records thus making it absolutely difficult on a long term basis for them to experience an appreciable form of sociopolitical and economic mobility.

This campaign by The Black Mental Health Alliance should take a social approach by working in conjunction with religious organizations including churches, the Nation of Islam, civic organizations including the NAACP, Urban League, Young Professional Network, the Historically Black Colleges, Teacher’s Unions, parent-teachers associations, community organizations, the media etc. Strategic solution development and alternatives to criminalization will quickly minimize if not eradicate the wearing of Saggy pants rather than its criminalization. Working with the police and law enforcement organizations should be a last resort in dealing with social problems especially with regards to dressing.

In light of the above, the repercussions for criminalizing Saggy pants will have grave detrimental and contradictory effects. The criminalization of the perpetrators will lead to more mental health issues when, as a result of their teenage indiscretions, they are now systematically excluded from the sociopolitical and economic life of America. To reiterate, the problem of Saggy pants is a grave social issue that should not be criminalized. The Black Mental Health Alliance should work strategically with communities, civic, and religious organizations to develop strategic solutions. Working with the Police primarily criminalizes Saggy Pants. The Center for Church and Prison, Inc. is a resource and research center working towards community revitalization through prison reform, and strategic solution development and intervention in the high rate of incarceration and recidivism in the United States prison system. Visit us: www.ChurchandPrison.Org

“It was not then a question of crime but rather color that settled a man’s conviction on almost any charge. Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims…But the chief problem in any community cursed with crime is not punishment of the criminals but the preventing of the young from being trained to crime.”–W.E.B. Du Bois (Published in 1901 in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences).

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