There can be fatal consequences to being Black and selling loosies: Eric Garner. There are fatal consequences to being a Black man wearing sagging pants: Anthony Childs.
The Bridgeport City Council, NAACP, and other Connecticut lawmakers are considering an ordinance that would ban the sale of all legal flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes. Black adults are the primary users of what is called ‘menthols’ by the community.
I understand the health reasons for wanting to create a tobacco-free state, so why not actually advocate for a full tobacco ban? Why focus on the product chosen primarily by adults in communities of color? This is the discriminatory line being crossed that makes me ask, are menthols the new sagging pants? Black folks like it, Black folks from the west end and the north end choose it, they enjoy it when hanging with friends or alone, walking down the street, or chilling in the park, so it must be wrong, indecent, prohibited, and enforceable by law?
Born and raised in Bridgeport, I became an officer here, even led in-school D.A.R.E. courses; this city and its people are my people. I saw a lot growing up in the P.T. Barnum public housing complex and witnessed many wrongdoings from our city’s cops, so I know firsthand the mistrust and resentment that many residents feel for the police. There’s a lot of fear of the police, which translates into anger and a lack of cooperation as many Black and Latino residents are aware that even a minor encounter with police can lead to a potentially dangerous situation.
This is why Bridgeport and all of Connecticut should not support any legislation that deems a choice made by predominantly Black adults illegal, a crime, or prohibited.
Anthony Childs and sagging pants
More than 12 years ago, there was a big legislative movement to ban sagging pants driven mainly cities with a large Black population. It may speak to a generational gap, or it could speak to indifference to the choices of certain groups of people. Michael Eric Dyson, the author of “Know What I Mean?: Reflections on Hip Hop,” said that many African-American advocates of the indecency laws to ban sagging, “have bought the myth that sagging pants represents an offensive lifestyle which leads to destructive behavior.” An Atlanta ACLU representative even said, “we see this as racial profiling … It’s going to target African-American male youths.”
In 2019, Anthony Childs, a 31-year-old Black man, walked along a sidewalk in Shreveport when a police officer attempted to detain him. Why? Because Childs violated the city’s ‘saggy pants ban.’ He ran. The chase ended when the officer fired several rounds. Childs died in this altercation. Childs’ death led to the repeal of the 2007 ban, which was unconstitutional and discriminatory to begin with…just as the menthol ban is.
The saggy pants ban resulted in more than 700 violations and fines with Black men making up 96 percent of the people arrested under the ordinance. Like Shreveport, many other cities that passed the saggy pants bans have also repealed their laws because they were unconstitutional and discriminated against Black men.
And today, we have the Bridgeport NAACP, an advocacy organization in a mostly Black community leading the charge to, again, ban a CHOICE that mostly Blacks make. Why not learn from the mistakes of others rather than repeat them?
Eric Garner and menthols
In 2014, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American father of six, was confronted by two NYPD officers for illegally selling cigarettes. Garner died after the officer used an illegal chokehold.
What the advocates of the menthol cigarette ban do not realize is that they are picking up the saggy pants ban torch. And just like sagging pants were used as a pretext to stop, question, and frisk– yes, a menthol will be used in the same way. To prohibit or outlaw the product or behavior because you deem it to be offensive or destructive is not your choice to make. However, to NOT make your community members targets of police interactions IS a choice you should make.
I ask the Bridgeport City Council, NAACP, and Connecticut lawmakers not to encourage the city, nor the state, to prohibit, criminalize, or penalize a choice that predominantly Black adults make.
David Daniels is a retired Lieutenant in the Bridgeport Police Department, former President of the Bridgeport Guardians and Former Executive of National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers.