The Cocoa, Florida city council has passed an ordinance which bans the wearing, on certain public property, of saggy pants of the sort which shows underwear or skin three inches below the waistline, as shown in the accompanying illustration. This, despite plenty of opposition, and claims from the African American community that the law, which goes into effect in January of 2013, gives police the right to increase their stopping-and-frisking of people based solely on their clothing, which, in turn, could lead to racial profiling.
Alberta Wilson, president of the Central Brevard County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said that she's worred about enforcement. "I fear a police officer getting some resistance and resorting to some means of doing bodily harm to a child," she said.
Cocoa is a small city of around 17,000 people; of which around 8,200 (approximately 48%) are males, and around 9,000 (approximately 52%) are females. The median age is around 40, only about a year younger than that of the rest of the state. The city's about an hour's drive east-southeast of Orlando, on Florida's
west (hey... it was late, I was tired) east coast, near Cape Canaveral. Its median per-capita income is around $18,000, and its median household income is around $31,000 (where the houshold median income for the entire state is $13,000 more). A typical condo sells, there, for only around $129,000 (where the median for the rest of the state is around $60,000 more), and a typical apartment rents for only around $700. So, even without knowing the city's racial make-up, it's clearly a place that isn't doing as well as it would almost certainly like.
And speaking of racial make-up, Cocoa's numbers are:
- White alone: 9,285 (54.2%)
- Black alone: 5,253 (30.6%)
- Hispanic: 1,931 (11.3%)
- Two or more races: 373 (2.2%)
- Asian alone: 175 (1.0%)
- American Indian alone: 75 (0.4%)
- Other race alone: 38 (0.2%)
- Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone: 10 (0.06%)
Its ancestries are German (9.6%), United States (9.1%), Irish (9.0%), English (8.7%), Italian (5.6%) and French (3.3%).
Among those aged 25 and older in Cocoa:
- 75.5% have a high school diploma or higher
- 13.7% have a bachelors degree or higher
- 4.4% have a graduate or professional degree
- 7.6% are unemployed
(See my note, below, about the bolding of the bulleted lists)
According to Cocoa's City Council website, its mayor and two of its four city council members are black; the other two council members (of which one is the deputy mayor) are white. The mayor, who is the council chair, expressed his support for the ordinance. He was, in fact, its ringleader. A 30-day enforcement grace period, during which an educational program by the city would take place to help young people to understand the ordinance and the issues, and to get voluntary compliance by that means, was discussed and tacitly agreed to; though by the time the ordinance finally passed, the education period would actually end-up occuring during however much of October was left (about a week, at that point), plus all of both November and December, in 2012 -- more than 60 days -- with the ordinance then taking effect on January 1, 2013, with no grace period thereafter.
It was also made very clear by the mayor, and the city attorney, and confirmed by the police chief, that the ordinance only applied to public property, and even then only under certain circumstances and in certain places. Public school property, for example, though public, is exempt from enforcement (ostensibly because the school system already addresses the issue by means of its internal regulations). Additionally, no one could be arrested for violation of the ordinance. Only civil citations could be issued, and the fine for a first offense would be $25, and for a second offense would be $75, and for a third and successive offenses would be $100. All that anyone would have to do to "wipe the slate clean," though, would be to simply pull-up his/her pants, as the mayor several times put it during the meeting. Though it was so briefly mentioned, at first, that it was likely missed by most people up to that point, the ordinance also included saggy skirts on females. However, during later public comment the fact that the ordinance included males and females, wearing either pants or skirts, was clarified.
The vote to pass ordinance 23-2013, at the October 23, 2012 City Council meeting, was 3 to 1, in favor, with one council member absent. The council member who didn't support it, Clarence Whipple, Jr., an African American male, said he originally, though "reluctantly," voted for the ordinance on earlier readings; however, on the day of the October 23rd council meeting on which the ordinance ended-up being passed, Whipple said he received eight phone calls -- something he said was unusual -- from citizens who were concerned about civil rights issues, enforcement, and possible targeting and racial profiling of young people of color. Whipple said that the matter should be delayed for one more council meeting to allow time for further study; that the newspaper didn't disclose all of the issues in its articles; that there are legal issues related to "probable cause;" and that he wanted to ensure that the police department enforces the ordinance in all four of the city's districts, and not just the one where most of Cocoa's African Americans live.
The police chief, when called upon by the mayor to address Whipple's concerns, admitted that the new ordinance could, indeed, be used as probable cause to stop someone, just as the city's current open-container law can be (and is) similarly used; after which, if other violations of law are observed (drugs, weapons, etc.), then arrests for those more serious things could occur. When the mayor returned to Councilman Whipple for further comment after what the chief said, Whipple stated that what the chief admitted was possible was exactly the kind of concern that some of his callers had... what he called "selective enforcement." He cited the very open-container ordinance that the chief had just used as an example; and which, from Whipple's observation, tended to only be enforced by police in areas where there are more African Americans walking around on the streets, or hanging-out in public areas; but that that same open-container ordinance didn't seem to be equally applied in the nicer (read: whiter) parts of town. Whipple worried about his (black) community's sometimes-troubling relationship with police; and law enforcement's tendency to stop people of color more often than others, and that that had to stop.
After the city attorney talked about how narrowly-focused (a phrase, along with "narrowly tailored," that we who write legislation recognize, and at which we grin) was the ordinance, and the limited public property on which it could be enforced, Councilman Whipple expressed his further concerns, and then made a motion that voting on the ordinance be tabled until the next council meeting, especially because one council member was absent. His motion died, however, for lack of a second.
When the mayor moved for passage, and it was seconded (but not yet voted upon); and then when the matter was opened for public comment, the second person to speak was a black woman who said she understood why the council wanted to pass the ordinance, but that regulating and legislating people's dress was stepping on their rights; that she didn' t have the trust in Cocoa's police to not be selective in their enforcement; and that if a child is obstinate and refuses to pull-up his pants, or if the parents don't have the money and can't pay the ticket, she was concerned about what happens. Sadly, the rhythm of her presentation, which the mayor had said was limited to three minutes -- 180 seconds -- was twice interrupted by him when he jumped-in to defend the ordinance quite literally like a preacher on the pulpit. The woman, exhibiting the patience of Job, said she understood the mayor's passion, but that she was nevertheless concerned about selective enforcement and its repercussions, and the "trampling on rights." Being careful to make sure everyone understood that it was really children about which everyone is actually talking, she pointed out that when the child is in school, it's different; that everyone knows they have to follow some rules while in school; but that the city can't go into people's homes, in effect, and re-raise their children. Yes, children need to be trained, she acknowledged, but she wanted to make sure that the police are trained to the issues, first.
I cannot even begin to express, here, how much I like that woman.
Others expressed such concerns as the police using the ordinance as probable cause to find drugs and guns, based only on the saggy pants ordinance stop: Sterotyping. Saying that "we do not live in Arizona," one man likened the ordinance to that state's laws enabling law enforcement to stop anyone who only looks like s/he might be an illegal alien, and then demand that they prove they're not. The fact that the ACLU has opposed ordinances like Cocoa's in other cities was also cited; as was the likelihood of a court challenge, which one speaker predicted the city would lose, and then the concomitant costs to the city. A white woman stood at the mic and said she didn't like the saggy pants, either, but that they were just attention-getting devices for those who wear them; and that the council and other adults and parents could do far more to influence the young adults who will be affected by the ordinance by simply setting a good example; by dressing well, themselves.
When the earlier-herein-quoted Mrs. Wilson, of the Central Brevard County NAACP, stepped to the mic, she expressed her vehement opposition to the ordinance, but added that it all seemed a waste of time because it seemed the council had already decided; and that "some of us would have liked an opportunity to have weighed-in on this with you" prior to that night; but she wanted, in any case, "the record to reflect, because we will go off and address this," that it was nothing more than a vehicle for further harrassment of young people. The fact that the city council doesn't like saggy pants, because it's unattractive, doesn't give the city to right to stop it; that unless the person wearing the saggy pants is, by his so doing, harming someone else, then he has the right to do it. She said that she felt the City of Cocoa had enough to do, just running the city, that it shouldn't have time to get into the raising of other people's children; to have the City of Cocoa, in effect, do that for them. She added that it seemed to her that the education piece should have come first; and that others should have been "invited to the table to engage in this discussion." She closed by saying that the mayor, the city attorney, and the council would have passage of the ordinance on their consciences, "because I can see some negative outfall from this."
I like Mrs. Wilson, too.
Another black woman, Laura J. Houston, stepped to the mic and said that she was against the ordinance, and didn't like "the way you guys are trying to force it on the City of Cocoa;" that there should be meetings, like Councilman Whipple suggested. She agreed that she, too, didn't like the saggy pants; the she didn't enjoy seeing people's "dirty underwear," either, but she was confident that it was a constitutional First Amendment violation to tell people how to dress; and she felt that passing an ordinance likely to get the city sued, was "not a good idea." She was also concerned about selective enforcement, saying that "because of the fashion statement, most of the African American males wear their pants like this," and that "this would be selective enforcement... descrimination" and "a can of worms." Acknowledging that she's a candidate for mayor (which caused a rapping of the gavel by the mayor, either because he interpreted her words as tantamount to campaigning, which I'm guessing is against the rules during council meetings; or because audience members applauded, which, if so, couldn't be heard in the video; but which gavel rapping, in any case, didn't slow her down but for a second), Houston worried about police manpower, and a department which, from how she understood things from her research and attendance at city meetings regarding it, was police-manpower-challenged, and so officers were doing inordinate overtime; and so how could the police department find the time and manpower to enforce the ordinance "when we have other pressing issues." She was also concerned -- not only as a citizen, but as possibly the city's next mayor -- that the existing mayor would be out of office by the time enforcement on the ordinance began in January of 2013, and so the unwelcome burden of it all would fall to the next mayor and city council. Then, finally, she expressed concern about "the females;" that the "saggy pants" ordinance is about pants-wearing-males only, and that there are females walking around (presumably wearing saggy skirts or pants) that "are disrespectful, too; so we're gonna' target males, and not females? That is discrimination, too."
After Mrs. Houston finished, and began to leave the comment podium, one of the Council members said that she had obviously not read the ordinance. She returned to the podium and asked for clarification, whereupon it was explained that the ordinance applies to both males and females, wearing saggy either pants or skirts. Mrs. Houston, being the class act that she obviously is, then humbly stood corrected, and thanked the council for it...
...but then, before stepping away, she got in a last lick wherein she reiterated that she was against the ordinance, and didn't think it was good for Cocoa.
Man, I sure like that Mrs. Houston!
There was also support for the ordinance, of course. One man, who said he was involved with the creation of similar regulation within the school system, said he was on the fence about the ordinance; that he's worried about civil liberties, but his as well as those of the pants wearers. He then talked about how he was standing in line with his kids, once, and the guy in front of his kid had his dirty underwear showing, and he didn't like having to explain it. He said he didn't want his family -- his mother -- to have to see such things in public; that it's about respect for others; that he has his rights, too, and he shouldn't have to look at it if he doesn't want to. He was, additionally, very concerned about taking enough time to really study it... maybe 90 days; and to make sure that everyone -- police, especially -- are properly trained.
After that, commenting was closed and the ordinance was passed, lickety split.
I'm a lefty, by any measure: A socio-politically, theologically and unambiguously liberal/progressive and lifelong Democrat who's never pulled a Republican lever (or, while in Florida, never poked-out a Republican chit) in the voting booth; and I never will. And so you'd think I'd be jumping right in with those who say this law is bad; making the "racial profiling" argument; worrying about the civil rights of those -- white or black, actually; but, obivously, mostly black, in this particular case -- who wear saggy pants in the manner described in the ordinance, and as shown in this article's illustration.
So I guess it's my age (56, at this writing) that, at least in part, has me thinking that maybe (and I stress that word, 'cause I'm still pondering it) this is a good law. Hm. Weird. I'm surprising myself with this reaction.
And the reason, of course, is that these sorts of situations are never black and white (no pun intended... I mean, by that, binary; yes or no; right or wrong; I'm not making a racial reference). There's always no end of subtlety and nuance to these kinds of situations... some of which really matter.
I've always hated, I confess, that kids dress this way... no matter what color is their skin. And, interestingly, the earlier-herein-quoted local head of the NAACP, Mrs. Wilson, would seem to agree. What she said immediately before that which I earlier-herein quoted was: "I don’t like the saggy pants anymore than you do, however, I respect people’s Constitutional rights. As disgusting as it may be, that is his civil right to do so."
It's nice that Wilson and I, who, while of different races, are likely of nearly identical socio-political stripes, agree on at least the unpleasantness of the whole saggy pants thing; but I'm struggling with whether or not there's a civil or constitutional right at issue, here... other than, maybe, a First Amendment free expression right of some kind. And someone will, I'll bet, now make that argument in court; and it'll be interersting, indeed, to see how that pans out. But I'm having, at least preliminarily, trouble seeing how anyone's civil rights are being violated by an ordinance, and reasonable (and that's the operative word, here) enforcement thereof, which attempts to put a stop to it... other than, again, maybe on First Amendment grounds. That's especially true when you consider that no one may be arrested and taken into custody for violation of the ordinance; that it's solely a civil remedy.
I also don't think that anyone -- at least not anyone who's law abiding -- could possibly get hurt because a police officer stops them about it. Police officers stop people all the time about all manner of things, and they never get hurt simply because of that unless they do something stupid like becoming disorderly, or taking a swing at the cop, or running, etc. And when that sort of thing happens, then, as far as I'm concerned, they deserve whatever physicality from the police that befalls them as long as said physicality is only what's necessary to stop them and/or lawfully (and that, too, is an operative word) take them into custody, and not one thing more; and as long as such not what the law and police policy and procedure defines as "brutality."
Unless, of course, they're children. At that point, Mrs. Wilson's point becomes more compelling.
It feels, to me, though, at least superficially -- and, again, I'm still processing all this, so I reserve the right to change my mind, here -- a bit like the African American community is saying that everyone else in the larger and more pluralistic community should tolerate the way many of its young people dress, even if, for whatever reason, it offends said larger community's sensibilities. It might seem to First Amendment purists, like that should not be a good enough reason for the enactment of such free-expression-oppressing laws, but the Supreme Court has long held that "community standards" matter. Only when said standards facially (and that's the operative word: "prima facie" in both latin and law) violate someone's constitutional rights which are either expressly stated in law, or are subsequently interpreted by the Courts, may such laws be struck down either solely or primarily on that basis. If larger community standards, then, are that dressing this way offends its sensibilities; and if said larger community is willing to legislate against it in a manner that isn't prima facie unconstitutional, and is sufficiently narrowly both focused and tailored that it will withstand constitutional scrutiny by the courts, then that, like it or not, is the way this country works.
Obviously, the fact that most of said larger community is white injects into the situation the thorny racial aspect...
...but... I dunno... and I'll be blunt: Maybe if most of those who dressed that way tended not to be either actual or wanna'-be pimps, drug dealers, gang members and/or misogynistic hip-hop "artists" who idolize bling, subjugate women and call them "hoes," then maybe it would be a little easier for said larger community to tolerate.
And maybe if most either actual or wanna'-be pimps, drug dealers, gang members and misogynisitc hip-hop "artists" who idolize bling, subjugate women and call them "hoes" weren't black, then it wouldn't feel to the African American community so much like it's racial profiling.
Like I said: nuance.
And, like I also said, I'm still pondering it all.
It's quite interesting to watch the video of the October 23, 2012 Cocoa city council meeting at which this ordinance was approved (see the link to it, below; and watch starting and ending at the times indicated to see just the ordinance part of it). Of particular interest was the mayor's passion... almost over the top, to be candid. He could so not stop himself from jumping-in to the middle of the second woman's comment that I'm sure someone sitting near him told him to calm down (we couldn't tell because the camera was just on the comment podium) because he pretty much let everyone else, after her, speak uninterrupted. But when the mayor did talk about it, it was in bona fide Baptist preacher style, repleat, at one point, with a few people uncontrollably tossing-in an "alright" or "that's right." I wouldn't have been surprised, if it had gone on long enough, to have heard an "Amen!" or two.
And that, right there, was when it started to really hit me that maybe something wasn't quite right about this whole thing; that maybe Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Houston were really onto something; that maybe there's a reason why the ACLU has warned other cities that doing something like what Cocoa has now done will surely attract costly constitutional court challenges; and that such ordinances could not withstand constitutional court scrutiny, and so said challengers would likely win. Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Houston may or may not have expressed it as well as a constitutional lawyer could have, but they did well enough. In their own ways, they got the point adequately across that this whole thing is just not right; that cities cannot impose dress codes; that how a person dresses is a form of expression that's the equivalent of protected speech under the First Amendment, and so may not be impeded by government... at least not without said government showing a compelling reason why, such as said dressing violating standards which the courts have previously ruled okay, such as standards of decency and/or obscenity. Such compelling reasons would include, for example, not being allowed to yell "fire" in a crowded theater, where there is no actual fire, thereby resulting in people being trampled and killed in the stampede to escape, for no good reason. The courts have held that such mean-spiritedness is not constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. But if you watch the council meeting video, I believe you'll find that the mayor, in his zeal, expressed not one single reason for enacting the ordinance which rises to the level of being sufficiently compelling to be in the same league of harm prevention as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater when there is no fire.
Moreover, both of those women, and Councilman Whipple, too, did about as good a job as I've ever seen -- especially by black folks -- of dancing around the legal elephant in the room: That the people who most wear saggy pants are, because they're black, a constitutionally protected minority class; and so a far higher standard would be applied by the courts in any constitutional scrutiny of Cocoa's ordinance. And at that exceptionally high level of scrutiny, no amount of narrow focusing or tailoring that the city attorney clearly believes was enough, in Cocoa's ordinance's case, would likely do. Under that high standard, only the First Amendment rights of such as Eminem, whenever he's pathetically pretending he's black and wearing saggy pants, migh potentially not be violated. And the truth is -- and this is what has really helped me to refine my thinking on this -- when it comes right down to it, I think even Eminem's rights are violated by Cocoa's new ordinance. Whenever the constitutional threshold is that low, you pretty much know that the ordinance is just plain wrong.
As much as I like what the ordinance is trying to accomplish, my gut -- guided by my years of statutory language authorship experience -- tells me that what Cocoa just did simply cannot be legally and constitutionally done; that the actual and/or wanna' be pimps, drug dealers, gang members and misogynistic hip-hop "artists" who idolize bling, subjugate women and call them "hoes" will ultimately be allowed to wear saggy pants; and that Cocoa's ordinance may now become the test case that winds its way to the US Supreme Court and becomes that which drives home the both point and importance of the First Amendment and its precious protections, even for those whose protected expression we find objectionable.
And the liberal/progressive in me knows that that's best, no matter how much I don't like pimps, drug dealers, gang members and misogynistic hop-hop "artists" who idolize bling, subjugate women and call them "hoes," be they real or imagined. Anyway, as long as that woman -- the one who said that all it is is an attention-getting device -- is right, then none of us have anying to worry about.
I'll candidly confess this, though: As an old white guy, it sure was fun watching a bunch of old black guys -- except for Councilman Whipple, of course -- forget their history and act like a bunch of old white guys, even if only for a little while. Someone should have reminded them that George Santayana was right: "Those who cannot remember" (or more appropriately, in this case, those who forget) "the past are destined" (doomed is more like it) "to repeat it." Paraphrased both more appropriately to this sitituaion, and also less convolutedly: Those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it; or, in these guys case, to become the enemy.
God bless Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Houston, and the woman who commented second, whose name I couldn't quite make out in the video, but who had the patience of Job, even in the face of a bomastic mayor's clearly trying to run roughshod over what she was so deftly and patiently trying to say. Imaging Christ, himself, in Matthew 5:38-39, she was the very essence of grace -- or at least graciousness -- when she calmly responded to the mayor's outrageousness by complimenting him on, and saying how much she understood, his passion. I love this woman, I tell you! Such wisdom and kindness.
I basically agree with what the ordinance is trying to accomplish, but may it nevertheless be quickly overturned in a court of law, and then become a cogent example of what no city should ever try to do. And may the obviously misguided city attorney learn a thing or two from it, along the way. He has -- albeit likely uninteniontally -- seriously misled his client. If he had more experience writing regulatory language which can withstand constitutional scrutiny, he would have known that the ACLU is right; and that this whole thing that Cocoa has now done was a non-starter, from the outset.
So, then, maybe I've now finally pondered it, after all. I guess I've decided. Writing this, and watching the council meeting video and those magnificent women make their unassailable case, has helped me to get there. Bless 'em, one and all.
All that said, some of the arguments that the mayor, et al, made in favor of the ordinance are remarkably similar to -- or at least in the general spirit of -- some of the things that actor, director, producer and comedian Bill Cosby has long been saying; that parents should be held more accountable for irresponsible parenting and for not setting clear expectations and priorities; that children should have more pride in themselves; and that, as Cosby said in his infamous 2004 NAACP speech, "the lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding [up] their end in this deal."
Here's more of Cosby's controversial 2004 NAACP speech rant:
"I'm talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don't know he had a pistol?
"Those people are not Africans, they don't know a damned thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaliqua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail.
"Fifty percent drop out rate, I'm telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me? And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is 'gimme, gimme, gimme.'
"The city and all these people have to pick up the tab on them because they don't want to accept that they have to study to get an education.
"It's not what they're doing to us. It's what we're not doing. Fifty percent drop out. Look, we're raising our own ingrown immigrants. These people are fighting hard to be ignorant. There's no English being spoken, and they're walking and they're angry. Oh God, they're angry and they have pistols and they shoot and they do stupid things. And after they kill somebody, they don't have a plan. Just murder somebody. Boom. Over what? A pizza? And then run to the poor cousin's house.
"You can't keep asking that God will find a way. God is tired of you."
Yikes! No small number of Cosby's fellow African Americans choked on at least some of that, I'll tell you. In his Black Youth Project piece, "Do Urban Schools Blame Failure on Black Culture," Jonathan Lykes wrote:
Bill Cosby only legitimizes the conservative paradigm when he ridicules black poor communities for not properly parenting their children. Cosby said “the lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on.” Cosby can be added to the long list of individuals who demonize poor communities of color for not having the right values. He becomes yet another member of the upper echelon that attacks the personal agency and individual choices of poor people but offers no historical foundation for why certain choices might be made over others.
But Cosby has continued, undaunted, saying that his black detractors were trying in vain to hide the black community's "dirty laundry."
"Let me tell you something," Cosby siad, "your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and calling each other [the N-word] as they're walking up and down the street. They think they're hip, but they can't read; they can't write. They're laughing and giggling, and they're going nowhere."
In his piece "Bill Cosby Rants Against Ghetto Poor: The Crisis of Black Leadership," Don Cane wrote in the Worker's Vanguard:
Cosby’s widely circulated quote, “Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day; it’s cursing and calling each other [the N-word],” amounts to blaming the victims for their own oppression. It reflects both the class divisions within the black population and the fact that black oppression transcends class lines. The cruel and bitter truth is that black ghetto youth are not wanted or needed by America’s capitalist rulers. By the same token, growing alienation among black youth is the product of hardening race segregation in this country.
The position of the black middle class in this country is a precarious one, even for those like Cosby who have “made it.” To be black and “make it”—to try to become part of “respectable” bourgeois society—requires putting as much distance as possible between yourself and the black ghetto poor. What better way to do that than to blame them for their own oppression? Cosby speaks for the thin layer of wealthy blacks who see the ghetto poor as “bringing the race down.”
But Cosby fights on. At the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision in Washington, DC, Cosby denounced some blacks' grammar and said those who commit crimes and wind up behind bars "are not political prisoners."
"I can't even talk the way these people talk," Cosby complained. "'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' ... and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk; and then I heard the father talk! Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth."
At a Rainbow/PUSH event later that year, in Chicago, Cosby castigated some blacks, saying that they cannot simply blame whites for problems such as teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates.
"For me there is a time ... when we have to turn the mirror around," he said. "Because for me it is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen in their seat, it keeps you frozen in your hole you're sitting in."
Cosby lamented that the racial slurs once used by those who lynched blacks are now a favorite expression of black children. And he blamed parents.
"When you put on a record and that record is yelling [the N-word] this, and [the N-word] that, and you've got your little 6-year-old, or 7-year-old sitting in the back seat of the car, those children hear that," he said.
In response, Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons praised Cosby as "a great American" but told the Washington Post that "pointing the finger may not be helpful... we still have more struggle as a society and more work to do" to reform it. Simmons then rejected the notion that hip-hop music has had a coarsening effect, saying it "is the soundtrack that reflects the struggle" of young people today.
Cosby, at the Chicago event, also condemned black men who missed out on opportunities and are now angry about their lives.
"You've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job, because you didn't want to get an education and now you're (earning) minimum wage," Cosby said. "You should have thought more of yourself when you were in high school, when you had an opportunity."
Bowie State University history professor Mario Beatty told the Washington Post that Cosby may be oversimplifying a problem that defies easy solution.
"We have to confront these social problems, but the solution is not as simple as having someone change their behavior," Beatty said, adding that "...one has to clearly understand the causes of the problem."
Kevin Hankton, a 39-year-old federal worker from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, told the Washington Post that he thought Cosby was well intentioned but would do more harm than good.
"I worked hard to pull myself up by the bootstraps ... but a lot of our people are still in the trenches trying to make it," Hankton said. adding: "Cosby needs to get off his soapbox and get back to his TV shows. When he was Dr. Huxtable on 'The Cosby Show,' he was the role model that motivated me. He needs to get back to those positive messages."
Of Cosby's remarks, the Rev. Al Sharpton told the Washington Post that he had a "mixed reaction."
"I agree that we have to do something about the internal contradiction of our community," said Sharpton, "but we also must be careful not to relieve the general community of what they've done to our community."
With disagreement like that going on in the black community, and validity on both sides, it's approaching disrespectful for my likes to reduce Cocoa's mayor, and those on the city council who proffered ordinance 23-2013 in an effort to try to put an end to saggy pants wearing and what that telegraphs to the larger community about black culture, to a bunch of old black guys who've forgotten their struggles and have become the enemy. It's far more complicated than that. There's more at stake for them than what they see, rightly or wrongly, as a mere civil rights argument. They're fighting for Cocoa's black youth population as surely and earnestly as are Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Houston. All one need do is watch the video of the council meeting and listen to the rationalization for the ordinance from the mayor and council members in favor of it. They have nothing but good intentions; good motives. That's why the second woman who commented was so patient with the mayor's interruptions. She could see, from the outset, that while constitutionally misguided, his heart was, nevertheless, in the right place. In that sense, they, too, are on the side of the angels.
But Sharpton's right: Despite the black community's internal contradictions, mindfulness must be paid to what the general community has done to it. And it's the general community -- the mostly white community, Sharpton was too gracious to say -- that wants such as Cocoa's saggy pants ordinance everwhere, if it could get away with it.
The likes of Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Houston can't allow that, though... and rightly so. The problem is that part of what the general community has done to the black community is oppress its freedom of speech rights, along with all the other civil rights that it has for so long oppressed.
Cocoa's new ordinance, no matter how well-intentioned by its supporters who think as Bill Cosby thinks -- and for said thinking are, in their own way, also on the side of the angels -- may, nevertheless, not achieve their goal by repeating the oppression of the past and further stifling the constitutionally-protected free expression (in the form of how it dresses) of a constitutionally-protected class... or of anyone else, for that matter... including even laughably-misguided and saggy-pants-wearing whites, like Eminem.
They just can't. Sorry. Another way must be found.
And for everyone's sake, I hope it is.
SEE, ALSO: Cocoa ordinance outlaws 'saggy pants' (from the WKMG, Channel 6, ClickOrlando website)
SEE, ALSO: The City of Cocoa's ordinance, number 23-2013 (a PDF file)
SEE, ALSO: Video of the Cocoa city council meeting (view from 1:01:58 through 1:52:15)
NOTE: I tried to make my bulleted lists, above, not bold. I even went into HTML mode and manually removed the "strong" tags, but the bolding still came back. So, apparently, Newsvine insists on bulleted lists being bold. That's very bad. There are no typographic or news/article-publishing conventions which so dictate. Someone should complain. I just did. If you're a Newsvine member, please do it, too.