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Aldermen take crack at defining nudity

The Evanston City Council will soon get to vote on a definition of public nudity after aldermen on the Human Services Committee this week voted to approve one cribbed from an ordinance in Morton Grove.

The Evanston City Council will soon get to vote on a definition of public nudity after aldermen on the Human Services Committee this week voted to approve one cribbed from an ordinance in Morton Grove.

The issue arose from an incident last year in which a police officer arrested a man whose pants fell down, exposing his lack of underpants, after the officer told him to put his hands up on a squad car.

This spring the committee, reviewing the police chief’s disposition of a complaint filed against the officer by the man, asked how the city code defined public nudity — and learned the term was undefined.

The proposed ordinance amendment would define nudity using Morton Grove’s language as "the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic areas or buttocks, or female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple." The amendment adds a qualifier that "Women breastfeeding in public are exempt from this definition."

Much of the previous debate over the ordinance revolved around efforts to discourage the dress code popular among some young men of wearing extremely low-slung pants that expose their underwear.

But as long as the underwear covered the buttocks and genitals, the ordinance amendment would not affect them.

City attorney Grant Farrar said in a memo to the committee that the definition "would not mandate a dress-code for residents. No ordinance would effectively regulate every manner of dress, or every situatio in which a resident would (unintentionally) become disrobed in public."

Including buttocks in the definition raise concerns for resident Betty Ester of 2031 Church St. 

"How are you going to control what people wear on the beach," Ester said. "Every person on the beach would be arrested for nudity because their buttocks are showing."

That led Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, to suggest the ordinance might need an additional exemption for beachwear.

But Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, "I still think we want to prohibit public nudity on the beach. As a bikini wearer, I think we’re trying to regulate what you cover, not how you cover it, and I think a bikini covers the right parts."

Grover asked Police Chief Richard Eddington whether the ordinance would help law enforcement, and he responded that it "will be of some assistance."

"There’s always a precurser event before we get involved," the chief said, "and these are few and far between. But this does help add some clarity to the matter."

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