Anthony Childs clung to his shorts as he ran past the police cruiser, holding them at his waist to keep them from falling down.
The officer had spotted Childs walking along the sidewalk in Shreveport, La., on the afternoon of Feb. 5 and cut a sharp left turn at the next intersection to speed up next to him. Childs, the officer saw, appeared in violation of Shreveport’s “saggy pants” ordinance, prohibiting wearing pants below the waist in public, punishable by a fine of up to $100 and up to eight hours of community service.
Childs fled as the cruiser approached, ditching the sidewalk for a vacant field. The officer hopped the curb and gunned it through the grass, gliding to a stop as he caught up to Childs.
“Hey! Hey!” the officer yelled, according to dash-cam footage of the incident. He could see now that Childs had a gun. “Put the gun down!” he yelled twice. The rest all happened in a matter of seconds. A succession of gunshots rang out. The officer fired eight shots, striking Childs three times as he lay on the ground. But the coroner later ruled that the bullet that killed Childs, 31, was the one he put into his own chest. It was the only shot he fired.
Since then, Childs’s death has roiled the city of Shreveport and strained police’s already-fraught relationship with the black community. For weeks, residents have stormed city council meetings demanding answers to one unshakable question: How did a man’s loose shorts lead to a fatal police encounter?
To Councilwoman LeVette Fuller, Shreveport’s so-called saggy pants ordinance — passed in 2007 and overwhelmingly enforced against black men — simply should have never existed in the first place.
Now, she’s moved to repeal it, a measure that was formally introduced at a city council meeting Tuesday.
“The hardest thing for me is that we have the untimely death of someone in a police-involved shooting, knowing that his family is really hurting,” Fuller said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The sagging pants ordinance is just so small and petty compared to the loss of life.”
Shreveport was just one of numerous municipalities nationwide to pass a “saggy pants” ordinance in the mid-2000s, as the movement to ban the emerging fashion trend rippled across the country in conservative legislatures and towns. Critics of these laws have long suspected racial bias may have motivated their rise, even as the exposed-underwear fad became popular among men of all races.
But after Childs’s death prompted Fuller to examine Shreveport’s enforcement data, she didn’t just find that the law was disproportionately enforced against African Americans.
It was almost exclusively enforced against African Americans.
Of the 726 people cited under Shreveport’s “saggy pants” ordinance since 2007, 98 percent of them were black, according to city data provided to The Post. When it came to juveniles cited under the law, 100 percent were black, Fuller said.
The recent findings ignited debate at Shreveport City Council about the necessity of a law regulating people’s behavior that critics say serves no public safety purpose, while simultaneously creating a stark disproportionate impact on minorities — and in the worst-case scenario, Childs’s death. The Shreveport Police Department did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
Because the coroner found that Childs died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office declined to review the shooting for prosecution last month, leaving unanswered questions within the community over who shot first. The officer has claimed Childs did, the Shreveport Times reported.
As tension boils over, and as the community expects action, Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins (D) said at a council meeting on Tuesday that repealing the ordinance would be the right place to start.
“It is my opinion that while the ordinance was originally well-intentioned, it unfairly targets people of color,” he said. “Just like many initiatives in the war on drugs that we now realize are discriminatory against people of color, we’ve evolved to reach that understanding. And this is in that vein.”
The rise of the saggy pants bans largely began in Louisiana, according to a 2009 article in the Brooklyn Law Review discussing the constitutionality of the laws. The fashion trend itself is believed to have originated in prisons, where inmates were issued ill-fitting clothes. It would eventually spill onto the streets of city neighborhoods, becoming more popular as it seeped into rap and hip-hop culture before finally reaching mainstream culture. Louisiana became the first state to propose a statewide ban in 2004, but after that failed, cities in Louisiana and beyond simply took up the cause themselves.
By 2008, the bans and the revealing fashion had gained such traction that even Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator on the campaign trail for president, weighed in on the issue. Speaking on MTV, he said he found the laws to be a “waste of time.”
“Having said that,” he said, “brothers should pull up their pants.”
In Shreveport, Fuller said, the idea behind the ordinance was to “employ respectability politics.” But she takes a view more akin to Obama’s opinion in 2008: Shaming young people for wearing saggy pants is fine. Punishing them is not.
“They were trying to get kids to follow the straight and narrow, and to look like the model children they wanted them to look like,” Fuller said of Shreveport’s logic in 2007. “So you do that — but then you also say you’ll get a citation that can also lead to a warrant, which can lead to jail time? Now what are they going to do? That’s professional development for becoming a criminal.”
Shreveport’s ordinance does not allow officers to arrest people solely for having saggy pants, but a failure to appear in court is what would trigger the warrant. What is not reflected in the data, Fuller said, is how often police have used the “saggy pants” law as a pretext for investigating a person a police officer finds suspicious, which Fuller said raised well-founded fears of racial profiling given Shreveport’s data.
At a tense community meeting organized by the NAACP on May 21, Shreveport Police Chief Benjamin Raymond identified Childs’s low-hanging pants as the reason the officer chased Childs. Dozens of residents gathered to hear him explain, shouting their doubts from the crowd as Raymond, the coroner and district attorney presented what they said was the truth.
When Raymond suggested that Childs could have been arrested if the officer thought it was necessary, the room erupted into indecipherable yelling.
“At the point the officer saw a violation of the law — wearing pants below the waistline that is probable cause to stop an individual,” Raymond began.
“But that’s profiling!” one man interjected.
“And it’s also probable cause to make an arrest, if so warranted,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the officer would have necessarily have arrested Mr. Childs for that offense."
“It’s not an arrestable offense!” another yelled. “Stop shaping it like that!”
Childs’s family said they were initially not told about what happened to Childs, why he was stopped or why he was shot, or whether he had done something threatening to the officer to arouse suspicion. But the more they learned from the coroner and district attorney’s findings, the more questions they had.
At a May 6 meeting, Childs’s sister, Tyren Pucker, said she couldn’t stop thinking about her brother lying on the ground as the officer continued to fire more shots at him, allegedly after Childs had already shot himself, the Shreveport Times reported. She asked: Was he a threat then?
“I puzzle this on my mind over and over again,” she said.
More from Morning Mix: