A few weeks ago, City Council member Dwaine Caraway ventured down to the first floor of City Hall, where he saw a sight that made his blood boil. Among the people waiting in line at the Bureau of Vital Statistics window was a very young man with his pants hanging down towards his knees.
Preventing sagging, as all of us well know by now, has been one of Caraway's raisons d'etre for five long and often difficult years, an effort that he relaunched in June with an exuberant press conference. Yet here was an interloper, right in the heart of City Hall.
Caraway sprang into action.
"You don't come into City Hall with your pants hangin' down," Caraway recalls roaring at the sagger. "Pull those pants up."
The boy didn't immediately respond. Possibly because he was about 3 years old.
"His little round behind was hangin' out," Caraway recalled this morning. "Like a plum." He looked at the boy's mother, who was, in the council member's words, "all tatted up" and carrying another child in her arms. He took the whole family upstairs for a stern talk, where he discovered the woman was a single mother. She said she didn't have a lot of extra clothes for the little boy. She also had no money for school supplies; Caraway quickly dug around in his office and found her some, which he keeps on hand for such situations.
But the pants level of her little boy was another matter altogether. Despite his best efforts, Caraway said today, it seems as though pants are sagging ever lower. "It's not getting better. It's getting worse." The saggers are getting younger, more saggy, more defiant. "They can't even walk."
As part of his renewed response, Caraway called a special meeting today, inviting members of the news media for a conversation, as his email put it, "regarding the city-wide Teen Summit that I am hosting in September about the Sagging Pants social stigma."
"The decision-makers are in this room," Caraway said gravely, looking around a conference room near his fifth-floor office. In the corner, behind a barely touched pile of Subway sandwiches and bags of Cheetos, rested a poster from Caraway's last major anti-sagging effort in 2009. It features the face of actress Irma P. Hall and a slogan: "Big Mama says Pull Em Up! Keep It A Secret." Opposite Hall's face, there's an image of a man's lower half, his shorts sagging, his boxers nakedly on display.
As Caraway spoke, Mayor Mike Rawlings popped his head in the door, followed by the rest of him. He gave the assorted reporters a thumbs-up. "Thank you so much for what you guys have done with West Nile," he said mysteriously. He took a blue folder of "Saggin' Summit" information from Caraway and vanished.
That was the real purpose of this morning's meeting, an announcement that the long-awaited forum on sagging finally has a date: from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, September 22, at the Convention Center. Caraway has sent letters to local pastors asking them to be involved, and he's recruiting athletes and musicians to participate. But he also asked for the media's help in getting the word out. When he first launched the no-sagging campaign five years ago, he said, "It caught on nationally, but it didn't really solve our problem."
"Maybe I have the right message," he added thoughtfully, "But the wrong messenger." He's encouraged by similar anti-sagging campaigns elsewhere, but he said he's still struggling with how to appeal to the saggers here "morally."
"You're with your family downtown," he explained, as a for-instance. "And here you are at our new park downtown, and there's some guys that are clearly disrespecting you. It puts your husband in a bad position, your wife in a bad position. The husband wants to be a man and say something." But in the past, he said, "There's been retaliation, when these things have taken place before."
As the situation worsens, he said, the whole thing "puts a black eye on our city." At the forum, he said he wants to hear from the saggers themselves, "why they think it's cool." He no longer wants to enact a no-sagging ordinance, he says, but instead "make an appeal." When he goes to Walmart, he said, sagging young dudes see him coming and hastily pull up their pants. But it's not enough. He can't be everywhere. And now there are issues with young women too: some of them are "wearing their PJs to Walmart at midnight." Some of the are even starting to sag themselves.
"We have an obligation to this city to reach out and try to educate," Caraway said. "If the media does not participate, it's not going to go anywhere." A few news outlets immediately agreed to provide free advertising; Clear Channel and Yellow Cab have also agreed to post ads for free on their billboards and taxis, respectively.
How much will the rest of it cost, we asked?
"I don't worry about the cost," Caraway replied. Then, realizing how that sounded, he quickly elaborated that it wouldn't cost any taxpayer money. He said he'll be asking the police and fire departments to donate their time, and that the cost of renting the Convention Center will be "minimal" and covered by private donations.
"I want everybody on board," Caraway added, a few minutes later. "All eyes will be on this city, I can tell you that. CNN and all those folks will be paying close attention. I am putting us onstage. It needs to be -- and I pray that it will be -- a 'we' effort. It will make all of us look good." The police would have less work, he said. DART ridership would go up. Visitors to the state fair will be impressed. "Families will be mended back together." Dallas will be "a cleaner, brighter city."
"You have my word," Caraway promised. "I'm gonna make us proud."