Charleston City Councilman Wendell Gilliard leaves with a mannequin he brought to the council meeting Tuesday night. He used the mannequin to illustrate the sagging pants style that he wants the council to outlaw.
Charleston moved closer to loaning $734,500 to the American College of the Building Arts on Tuesday, while a controversial ordinance that would criminalize wearing pants three inches or more below the hips was sidelined.
A teen wears his pants low as he walks down King Street in November 2007.
The loan to the college has been described as crucial, and even necessary for the school's survival, but it was the saggy pants ordinance that kept television crews at a City Council meeting for nearly five hours.
In an often heated debate, council members were divided between those who see low-riding pants as part of a larger criminal problem, and those who see it as a somewhat offensive fashion statement used by young people to shock their elders.
"I'm not laughing because this is a serious issue," said Councilman Wendell Gilliard, who brought a mannequin to council chambers to demonstrate the clothing style he sought to criminalize.
"When the snickering is over, maybe we'll get serious about finding a solution," he said, telling council that wearing pants well below the hips is a gang symbol that contributes to violence in his district.
Along with councilmen James Lewis and Robert Mitchell, Gilliard urged that council give initial approval to the ordinance, but other council members said it went too far, and Mayor Joe Riley said such a measure would surely be unconstitutional.
"I don't think City Council needs to be the fashion police," said Councilwoman Deb Morinelli. "It's absolutely silly."
Several audience members offered comments on the ordinance, both pro and con.
"I wish we could stop them from busting a sag," said Rev. Alma Dungee, president of the North Central Neighborhood Association.
Arthur Lawrence, president of the West Side Neighborhood Association, said the ordinance made no sense.
"We don't want to live in a police state," Lawrence said.
Councilman Aubry Alexander said that, during the 1960s, his father might have liked City Council to make him get a haircut and stop wearing bell-bottoms. He said saggy pants are a similar, generational fashion issue.
Councilman Tim Mallard offered support for the ordinance, saying it might be helpful in neighborhoods like the East Side.
"I don't care if it's unconstitutional," said Mallard. "It sends a message."
Riley said the ordinance could only be constitutional if a court agreed that wearing pants three inches below the waist is obscene.
"We need to take care of the root causes (of crime), and this is not it," said Councilman Gary White.
In the end, council voted 7-4 to defer the matter.