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Low pants vs. no pants 

ACCORDING TO news reports, some members of Savannah City Council have seen enough underwear and are asking for a statute as part of Savannah’s proposed parental responsibility law, prohibiting boys from wearing baggy pants below the butt.

Lowrider pants are hardly new to town. I recall that, during his 11th grade year, my now-30-year-old brother wore his private-school-mandated khakis in this way, along with other required clothing items: a belt, a tucked-in oxford cloth shirt, and a tie. Thankfully he’s outgrown it.

It appears the recent anxiety about baggy trousers is part of a sharp increase in fear in Savannah about youth behavior, particularly violent crime.

Most comments I hear and editorials that I read stir this key ingredient together with drug sales and use, the high drop out rate, the quality of the school system, the high poverty rate, and the high incidence of teenagers having babies. In mixed-race groups, invariably the remarks stop short of adding a sprinkling of racial commentary, but in whites-only conversations it is usually present. I suspect that a version of the race issue often comes up in blacks-only groups as well.

Cooked together, it makes a terrible stew that continues to bubble, nearing a boiling point, with no idea of how to take the mess off of the stove and toss it into the garbage.

Passing an anti-baggy pants law seems like a complicated distraction that could make a few people, neighborhood constituencies in particular, feel like they are being heard, but will be nearly impossible to enforce.

I don’t care about the trousers worn by the tough boys I see waddling by, waistband in hand. Below the butt or up to their armpits, it’s all fine by me.

I’m more concerned about what these boys are doing when their pants are off.

The topic of “babies having babies” keeps finding its way into conversations about Savannah’s youth-crime-poverty-guns-drugs-employment never ending cycle. What chance for a different life does a baby have when born to a teenaged mom with a GED or less, earning minimum wage, surrounded by more of the same? When are the fathers going to step up? And why don’t these girls stop having so many babies?

I recall a conversation I had in the late 1990’s with a senior-level manager of Youth Futures Authority, discussing that agency’s goals: Reduce teen pregnancy, reduce STD’s, reduce child abuse, increase high school graduation rates, reduce drug use.

All good, but nowhere were there suggestions for increasing fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives, or about encouraging two-parent households. Why not?

The response was chilling: Often, it is not safe for the mother of the child to be in contact with the father. The sexual encounter that resulted in the child was often non-consensual.

In other words, the women are often afraid of the men that fathered their children, and sometimes, the child is the result of a rape.

I suspect it’s hard for a teenaged girl in any neighborhood or socio-economic status to say no to a neighborhood boy known to carry a gun. It’s probably just as hard to persuade him to use a condom.

Last week I ran into a dear acquaintance after a several-years break. In the gap since our last visit she’s become a grandmother, several times over, but one of her grandkids she’ll probably never meet. At birth, that baby was adopted out by my friend’s daughter to a family in another state.

“She wouldn’t let me see it, she wouldn’t let me take it, she won’t talk about it,” said my friend. “But I feel pretty sure she was raped.”

If it’s a frequent enough scenario that the policy wonks in local government are aware of it, maybe it’s worth addressing at a more formal level. For starters, it would help to review the data. Even for reported rapes, babies born from rape-based pregnancies isn’t a category evaluated by the local authorities, according to Mary McAlister, Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Center of Coastal Georgia.

Maybe we can shift more of the blame for teen pregnancy away from the girls and onto the boys. Maybe we can admit that in some cases, being a single mom is the smarter, braver choice than exposing a child to a violent criminal.

Maybe we can find a way to get the boys to keep their pants on, no matter how low they choose to wear them.

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Robin Wright Gunn

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Connect Today 12.03.2016

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