Pants on the ground
Pants on the ground
Lookin' like a fool with yo pants on the ground
With yo gold in yo mouth
Hat turned sideways, pants hit the ground
Call yourself a cool cat, lookin' like a fool
Walkin' downtown with your pants on the ground
— General Larry Platt, 62, on 'American Idol.'
For the record, District Judge Wayne Maura did not perform this rap song during Monday's contempt-of-court hearing for an 18-year-old man charged with insufficient trouser altitude. It would have been pointless, since Adam Dennis didn't attend.
Still, I can't help feeling this would have been the best outcome for a weird case that began when droopy-drawered spectator Dennis caught the eagle-eyed district judge's attention at a May 7 preliminary hearing.
Monday's hearing was the kind of event that leaves reporters marveling, "They pay me to do this?"
How often do you get to hear any judge use phrases like "completely below his buttocks?" How often do defense attorneys find themselves discussing whether that "very thin layer" — Maura's words — of white material sticking out of a defendant's pants is his underwear or white gym shorts? How often are three police officers summoned to keep the peace at an extraordinarily minor district court hearing?
The fact that I missed all this has left me inconsolable.
Maura fined Dennis $50 for showing up at somebody else's court hearing with drooping pants. Maura spotted him before that May 7 hearing started and had him escorted out of the courtroom to pull his pants up, then didn't notice him until he was leaving afterward — and showing too much white whatever. Maura followed him to confirm his fashion diagnosis, and the contempt citation ensued. The rest is pants-on-the-ground history.
Dennis was represented by Lehigh County's chief public defender, Kimberly Makoul, who also handled a previous hearing on the same matter. She said she probably will appeal.
There are a couple of ways to look at this.
The first is that people whose pants droop to their knees are jerks, and we should do whatever we can to help them recognize the error of their sartorial ways. Our society is going to hell, the argument goes, and these punks are a big reason why.
I don't care for this look, either, although I should confess that my pants fall down routinely at home, even with a belt. This has happened to me a few times while I was taking garbage cans to the curb and thus didn't have a free hand to pull my pants up. Only the cover of darkness saved me from an indecent exposure rap. I hope I'm not in Maura's district.
This is less about looking like a cool cat than a problem with narrow hips and improperly sized clothing. I find myself re-cinching my belt all day to avoid lookin' like a fool.
For that matter, I've been admonished for wearing my hat backward during Eating My Way Through Musikfest. Multiple people complained about my photos in the paper, including one who wrote:
"Hey Bill. We spend lots of time out here trying to teach our kids respect and to present themselves properly, and one of the most disrespectful fashion statements is the hat on backward 'let me look gangsta' thing, and here you go plastering the who-gives-a-damn look all over the newspaper.
"C'mon man, act your age, set a good example, not a hey I give up, I wanna look 13 again."
Just call me the gangsta columnist.
Maura clearly is an advocate for the "What's the matter with kids today?" view. A sign in his office says, "No exposed undergarments or excessive exposure of any private body areas. You will not be permitted in court or waited on if you appear in this condition!"
He also has posted several cartoons around the courtroom showing disreputable-looking young black people — well, at least two of them; the third has his/her back to us and is wearing a hoodie and a thong — with their pants more or less on the ground, with the caption, "Pull your pants up!"
I see white kids dressed the same way all the time. I guess the black ones are perceived as more of a problem
Anyway, I said there are a couple of ways of looking at this. Here's the other one.
We've wasted taxpayer money and court time to indulge a childish fit of pique over a spectator on his way out of the room. You could argue that a kid doesn't deserve a criminal record because he's a bad dresser.
I'm appalled at the way some defendants dress and act, and I wouldn't blame a judge who gave them a tongue-lashing for wearing T-shirts, low-cut blouses or flip-flops to their trials or hearings. Never mind respect. Show some common sense.
But contempt citations should be reserved for people who disrupt the court with their behavior, not for quiet spectators. And if I'm going to summon a bunch of busy policemen to keep the peace in my court, the stakes had better be a lot higher than a thin layer of fabric and a missing belt.
Otherwise, the guy with his pants on the ground won't be the only one lookin' like a fool.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun