ACLU of Arkansas Successfully Blocks Biased Dress Code for Visitors to Public Housing Units

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
July 1, 2004 12:00 am

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Code Violates Constitutional Rights of Visitors, ACLU Says


LITTLE ROCK, AR — Responding to a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, the city of North Little Rock decided Monday not to impose an unconstitutional dress code on visitors to public housing units that would prohibit entry to anyone wearing backward baseball caps, saggy pants or bandanas.

“”These kinds of dress codes clearly target African-Americans and other ethnic groups whose youth tend to follow certain styles, while taking advantage of poor people who need to use government programs like public housing,”” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “”Too many times being poor means being a criminal suspect, and receiving government aid means giving up your rights.””

“”The ACLU is glad the North Little Rock City Council decided to do the right thing in this case,”” added Sklar.

In March, officials from the police department and the North Little Rock Housing Authority began discussing the possibility of amending an existing contract to include a dress code for anyone visiting public housing units. The proposed dress code intended to block people from entering the units who were wearing clothes “”promoting or representing gangs or gang activity.””

After learning about the proposed dress code, the ACLU of Arkansas submitted two memos to the housing authority arguing that the proposed regulation was constitutionally vague and would violate visitors’ First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.

“”Lots of people wear their caps backwards, wear bandanas and have saggy pants; they’re obviously not all gang members,”” said Sklar. “”What we saw here was another example of racial and class profiling.””

In a similar situation, the ACLU was also successful in getting developers of an outdoor entertainment complex in Louisville, Kentucky to ease dress code restrictions that denied entry to anyone wearing “”sports jerseys, sleeveless shirts or backward caps.””

Little Rock attorney Blake Rutherford wrote the memos to the housing authority on behalf of the ACLU of Arkansas.

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