I recently saw this video of a Baltimore police officer yelling at and physically subduing a 14-year-old skateboarder. The video was posted in February 2008 and has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times. But other than being popular, this video is not unique. A quick search on YouTube brings up a whole host of videos documenting the clashes between law enforcement and skateboarders, and these clashes have been taking place for as long as skateboarders have been on the streets. Sometimes it seems that skateboarders and cops are destined to be locked in an eternal battle over property, safety, and miscommunication.
As a parent, you want to make sure that your children are safe, but you also want to give them the freedom to pursue what they enjoy in life. There are a few main issues involved in skater/law enforcement clashes that might help us to better steer our skateboarding children away from confrontations with police.
Most of the time, when police confront skaters it’s over issues involving private or public property. Some private property owners do not want skaters on their property, in front of their store, in their parking lot, etc., because they see skaters as a injury liability, and the same goes for public property. If a skater falls and seriously injures him or herself in or around private or public property, the owner or the city could be liable for that injury. To avoid being sued by a skater’s parents over their child’s high-injury-risk behavior, the city or private property owners deter skaters from practicing on the
property through “No Skateboarding” signs and law enforcement patrols. As well, if a skater is caught skating on private property he or she could be charged with trespassing.
In addition to simple trespassing and the risk of potential injury, skaters often participate in defacing or damaging public and private property. Skaters use city features to do tricks. Objects like handrails, benches, stairs, curbs, or other concrete or metal structures can be damaged by skaters who use them to grind on, jump off, and jump onto. As well, most cities view the use of wax on concrete features as defacing public property, akin to graffiti. This damage costs the city money to fix, so it seems logical that they would want to keep skaters from damaging these features.
Concerns over property are not the only reason business owners and law enforcement don’t want skaters in certain areas. Because skateboarding is a very physical sport, not only does it pose an injury risk to skaters, but to other citizens as well. Not landing a jump or not having control of one’s board could cause skaters to run into other citizens in the immediate area, causing them injury. Depending on where the skating is happening and at what time, this can be a big concern for business owners who don’t want their customers hassled by skaters and law enforcement who want to keep citizens safe.
But beyond safety, many business owners don’t want skaters around simply because they do not have the image the business is trying to convey. In general, skateboarding is not only a sport but a fashion style that may include saggy pants, long hair, ripped clothing, and more. A business owner may be averse to letting these perceived shady characters skate on their property. And although, technically, only the fashion police can arrest you for looking grungy, law enforcement officers also want public places to look nice, so trying to persuade skaters to leave those areas might be viewed as a small-scale public beautification project.
Although law enforcement has many reasons to enforce property and safety laws, that does not always mean they do so in an appropriate way. As evidenced in the video mentioned above, some officers will use force when they perceive that a citizen is being disrespectful or will not comply with verbal warnings. As well, law enforcement officers face potentially dangerous situations everyday and encounter a lot of criticism from the public and the media. Law enforcement is a high-stress job, and skaters who talk back, make off-color remarks, or don’t respect the law way be seen as a threat even if they pose no immediate physical threat at all.
Avoiding Police Confrontation
As a parent, it’s important to let your child know that law enforcement officers are mainly concerned with safety and property issues when it comes to skateboarders. Here are some thing to avoid:
- Avoid skating on private or public property that explicitly states “No Skateboarding.”
- Don’t damage property either by grinding on it or waxing it.
- Show respect for law enforcement—even if you think they are in the wrong—showing respect will help avoid potentially dangerous confrontations. If the officer really is in the wrong, file a complaint. An officer who receives multiple complaints raises a red flag for that officer’s superior.
In areas where a skate park is available, help your child make use of it, so they can avoid confrontation with police. If you don’t have a skate park in your area, lobby your city council to build one and point out that creating such a park will reduce crime and concentrate skaters into one area. Overall, just keep in mind that police are not out to “get” your skateboarding son or daughter. They are just trying to keep your city safe and clean. If you let your child know what officers are most concerned about, you may help them to avoid potentially dangerous situations in the future and skate safety.
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