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Lawmakers worry about underpants

Evanston aldermen appeared to agree on a definition of public nudity this week and mulled over what — if anything — to do about young men who let their underpants show in public.

Members of the city’s Human Services Committee, following up on a discussion last month in which they learned that the city code bans public nudity but doesn’t define the offense, agreed to have the city’s legal department draft an ordinance that would borrow a definition from Morton Grove.

That town’s ordinance defines nudity 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."

They rejected language from the state criminal code that extends the definition to also include "the depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state."

Turning to the question of young men who let their pants ride low, exposing their underpants to public view, Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said, "Maybe the issue is not so much to try to criminalize what we might perceive to be a vulgar kind of dress code some of our young people engage in. Maybe it’s about broadening the discussion about how we help shape behavior."

Jean-Baptiste said he’d seen gradations of the style — from sagging pants, to pants "just outrageously low. Yes, with underwear showing, but on the verge of falling off too."

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said that the topic came up at an Evanston Youth Initiative meeting at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center.

"Us old folks and the young folks had a lively discussion about that. I think it’s going to take some dialogue between older and younger adults and teens to discuss it."

She said one young man at the session said he didn’t understand why guys would want to dress like that — especially those engaged in unacceptable behavior — "because you can’t run with your pants down like that."

Jean-Baptiste suggested referring the issue to the city’s Human Relations Commission.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said that beyond simply prohibiting nudity, "We can’t legislate how you cover yourself. That would run into First Amendment issues."

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