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Are Saggy Pants Really a Threat to Flight Safety?

Inimai Chettiar,
Brennan Center's Justice Program
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June 17, 2011

On Wednesday, a college student was removed from his U.S. Airways flight and arrested at San Francisco International Airport. The scholar-athlete, Deshon Marman, was attempting to return to the University of New Mexico after attending a childhood friend’s funeral when he was arrested for “trespassing” after being removed from a plane that he had a ticket to be on.

Lots of people Deshon’s age choose to wear their pants the way one airline employee described as “below his buttocks but above the knees.” The style hardly constitutes a threat to flight safety.

We are required to take off our belts and outer-layers of clothing going through airport security. And you’d be hard-pressed to tour a high school or college campus without seeing a great deal of exposed boxer shorts peeking out of sagging pants. So are we really to believe that the partial visibility of Deshon Marman’s boxers is what made these airline employees uncomfortable to the point of calling the police? Or was Deshon’s mother, Donna Doyle, closer to the truth when she guessed that the real impetus was “the way he looks- young black man with dreads and baggy pants”?

The implications of this incident stretch much further than the fellow passengers who were forced to deplane and delayed in their travel over a young man’s pants. And much further than Deshon, who was held in jail until posting $10,000 bail for his release and still faces the possibility of criminal charges. This is another life touched by the embarrassing legacy of racially biased targeting. When 1 in every 8 black men in their twenties is in prison or jail on any given day, and three times more black people live in prison cells than in college dorms, we cannot write off ridiculous incidents like this as random.

The absurdity of turning to the police for sagging pants is just emblematic of a pervasive national issue: overreliance on imprisonment. As a nation, we have spent increasingly exorbitant amounts of money putting people in prison, almost half of which are for nonviolent offenses. What’s worse, as the world’s largest incarcerator, we have locked up record numbers of individuals with no benefit to public safety.

Black men, one out of three of whom can expect to go to jail at the current incarceration rate, are the main targets of this addiction to overincarceration. Deshon Marman’s is now another story among the staggering legions.

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