Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Family arrested over baggy pants incident from 5 months ago

Weird how on the very same day I posted about a court's support of free speech rights in malls, an entire family was arrested at a mall over one member being banished from the mall 5 months ago in a case that itself would have violated the ruling - except it happened in the wrong state.

This past summer in Wellington, Florida, a shopping facility called the Mall at Wellington Green asked a 20-year-old customer to leave for violating the mall's "Rules of Common Courtesy" by wearing pants that were too baggy. The Florida State University business major vacated the mall without incident.

But just a few days ago - which was months after this minor episode - he returned to the mall. Everyone assumed the baggy pants incident was so long ago that it didn't matter anymore. Everyone, that is, except the control freaks who operate the mall.

The modern retail industry is like a Disney World of oppression. As a Money-Making venture, it has to be on top of the public's tastes, but - paradoxically - it has an authoritarian worldview. The Mall at Wellington Green's reaction to the banished customer's reappearance sounds like it's straight out of an Orwell novel. Upon seeing the young man there, mall personnel promptly summoned police. Some 30 police cars (including 2 canine units) and even a police helicopter swooped in on the mall, closing down all the roads in the area. All because someone who once wore baggy drawers to the mall returned.

His entire family of 6 - including himself, his parents who are 50 or older, and his teenage sister and cousins - was promptly arrested. The charges are flimsy and in many cases outrageous. For instance, 5 of them were arrested for trespassing - even though only one of the 5 had previously been ejected from the mall over the pants. How can a person be busted for trespassing at a mall when there was no prior trespass warning? In effect, 4 of the 5 who were charged with trespassing weren't banned from the mall until they were already at the mall, when the trespass warning suddenly became retroactive.

The entire altercation sounds like yet another needless show of force by authorities that got out of hand thanks to their own choice to escalate it (much like the tasering during the John Kerry speech). Now, I'm not saying the police are always wrong. In fact I've defended them when they were right. But this time the amount of force and the resulting charges are so far out of proportion to the "threat" that the mind boggles up and down for hours on end.

A lot of folks might be slightly less suspicious of the "official" version of things, except it doesn't even agree with itself. The sheriff's department's report of the event contradicts the mall's own account on several points. They both contradict the family's side of the story. The family says they were threatened and punched by police for daring to even ask why the fuzz showed up. They also asked the cops whether the hassle was racially motivated. Maybe the police didn't like this question - but the family had every right to ask it, especially considering that racial profiling is already epidemic. It's unprofessional for the police to overreact just because a civilian asked a question they didn't like.

But the cops seem to be quite proud of their part. A Palm Beach County sheriff's lieutenant boasted to the Palm Beach Post, "It's a family affair. They get to spend the holiday in jail together." Regarding the young man's baggy pants that got him removed from the mall months earlier, the lieutenant said, "The mall doesn't put up with that tomfoolery bullcrap."

For the record, the family was arrested when they were already trying to leave the mall - which further dashes the trespassing accusations. Also, the mall's "Rules of Common Courtesy" don't say anything about loose-fitting trousers, which means the young man never even violated the rules in the first place.

But with the trend towards tyranny, saggy drawers have been criminalized in some American locales. In Opelousas, Louisiana, offenders face jail and a $500 fine. In Riviera Beach, Florida - not far from the mall in this story - the mayor is circulating a petition to outlaw baggy pants. Must pib to live in these cities, because they obviously must not have any other problems at all to be worrying about something like this.

(And yes, the mandatory bigoted blustering by the overlords of Freeperism has already cluttered comment sections of other websites about this story.)


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