Skip to main content

Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

View Video Library
Share
Opinion

Black people more likely to be arrested under Phoenix dress code

Aug 02, 2023

Share

A city ordinance in Phoenix allows police to arrest people for dressing scantily on charges of “manifesting an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution,” but the law doesn’t appear to treat everyone equally. Recent data obtained by the Phoenix New Times reveals that the majority of those charged with this offense over the past two years were Black.

Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence argues that such a law is just another instance of Black people facing unjust treatment compared to their white counterparts.

And so now in Phoenix, where Black people compose just over 7% of the population, while Black bodies are 53% of those charged with “manifesting prostitution,” in light of their lewd attire — which many would deem appropriate given the hot climate. It’s really full circle here. And as much as many people in white America will maintain that ordinances, like those in Phoenix, have nothing to do with race, when we know that that is not the case, because our minds use race as a mechanism for determining who really seems to break the law. 

Hence, laws like this ordinance in Phoenix become just another mechanism for dehumanizing Black people, really just reminding us that our bodies are policed in ways that white bodies are not. And the consequences, well, they are very real.

A mandatory 15-day stint in jail can cost people their jobs. Can you simply disappear for two weeks and have no issue whatsoever with your employer? Most people can’t go MIA, particularly Black people, as we are far less likely to have salaried positions that allow for such sudden leave. We’re also less likely to have funds to hire accomplished legal counsel who can help beat the charge on our behalf. And missing work, well, that often means missing rent, car payments and so much more. 

How one dresses shouldn’t be a crime, right? But it is in Phoenix. In Arizona’s capital city, a vague ordinance has allowed police to prosecute people who are dressed “sexily” shall we say. If a law enforcement officer finds that a person is scantily dressed, well, Phoenix police can charge them with “manifesting prostitution.” And that’s a crime that carries a mandatory sentence of at least 15 days in jail. You’re likely thinking that this law sits dormant, right? But it doesn’t. 

 

Police have charged more than 450 people under this attire based ordinance, upending lives over simply someone’s preference for certain clothing in a climate that happens to run hot. Of course, it’s often the case in the land of the free — and it is the case here — that a disproportionate number of those being charged under the law are Black. Now this unconstitutional ordinance is nothing more than weaponized white supremacy, and it must be shut down. 

 

Statutes like this appear racially neutral on their face, but they are not in application or in enforcement. Lawmakers know that, white America knows that but nothing is done. A blond hair blue-eyed white woman walking down Main Street in a tight black dress will be viewed differently than if it were me walking down Main Street in the exact same get up. That is a fact. It’s more likely the case that I’d be viewed as an individual manifesting prostitution simply because of my melanin count. And we really have misogynoir to blame for that. That is the racial and gender bias uniquely experienced by Black women. And one of those biases? It manifests in the form of hyper sexualization, and that bias reaches as far back as slavery. 

 

At the inception of the slave trade, Europeans did their damnedest to dehumanize Black bodies, and all be it the attire being appropriate for the hot climates, well, white people then were appalled by the clothing that Africans wore, finding it lewd. So in the quest to dehumanize the Black body, well, white people stereotyped African women as being sexually promiscuous. Now this label, it helped them justify enslavement and the sexual violation of Black female bodies. And that harmful and utterly degrading trope — labeling black women and girls as innately sexual beings — well that has followed us to this very day. 

 

And so now in Phoenix, where Black people compose just over 7% of the population, while Black bodies are 53% of those charged with manifesting prostitution, in light of their lewd attire — which many would deem appropriate given the hot climate. It’s really full circle here. And as much as many people in white America will maintain that ordinances like those in Phoenix have nothing to do with race, when we know that that is not the case, because our minds use race as a mechanism for determining who really seems to break the law. 

 

Hence, laws like this ordinance and Phoenix become just another mechanism for dehumanizing Black people, really just reminding us that our bodies are policed in ways that white bodies are not. And the consequences, well, they are very real. A mandatory 15 day stint in jail can cost people their jobs. Can you simply disappear for two weeks and have no issue whatsoever with your employer? Most people can’t go MIA, particularly Black people, as we are far less likely to have salaried positions that allow for such sudden leave. We’re also less likely to have funds to hire accomplished legal counsel who can help beat the charge on our behalf. And missing work, well, that often means missing rent, car payments and so much more. 

 

Plus, consider what happens when a Black woman is convicted of manifesting prostitution simply on account of her attire. Well, such a charge on one’s record would likely harm their future professional prospects, which are tied to economic mobility, as we know. I could not imagine trying to explain to a prospective employer how I was just donning the latest tight Fashion Nova dress on a Friday night, rather than trying to sell my goodies around the block. 

 

To say such an exchange would be demoralizing would be an understatement. Black women should be allowed to wear whatever we want to wear without being hyper-sexualized and demoralized with accusations and charges of criminality. And don’t get me wrong — sex work is work. I am not throwing shade on the profession. What I am throwing shade on is ordinances like Phoenix’s manifesting prostitution. Because at the end of the day, these kind of vague laws do nothing more than manifest racism.

Video Library

Latest Commentary

We know it is important to hear from a diverse range of observers on the complex topics we face and believe our commentary partners will help you reach your own conclusions.

The commentaries published in this section are solely those of the contributors and do not reflect the views of Straight Arrow News.


Latest Opinions

In addition to the facts, we believe it’s vital to hear perspectives from all sides of the political spectrum. We hope these different voices will help you reach your own conclusions.

The opinions published in this section are solely those of the contributors and do not reflect the views of Straight Arrow News.

Weekly Voices

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Monday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Tuesday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Wednesday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Thursday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Friday

Left Opinion Right Opinion