City Times

Is skateboarding a crime?

Benny A. McFadden

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Almost everyone I have ever met who lived in San Diego during the 1980’s remembers the skateboard and BMX freestyle exhibitions on Ventura Court in Mission Beach outside of Hamel’s Surf and Skate Shop. And, if you were at all aware of the political climate at the time, you would remember how difficult it was for the pro-skate community to earn respect from more conservative members of the public, in particular, the police.

Currently, according to Article 4, section 84.12 of San Diego Municipal Code, regarding miscellaneous driving rules, Mission Beach is the only community in San Diego to have an active ban on skateboarding in parks and public walkways. That ban is between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. between the geographical location of, “San Diego Place on the south and Law Street on the north.”

That area encompasses the Mission Beach and Bay boardwalks and other public walking areas from the South Mission Beach jetty to the dividing line between Pacific Beach and La Jolla.  According to the same section of the same city municipal code, the only other reason that police can legally issue tickets to people skateboarding is to minors under the age of  not wearing safety helmets and people skateboarding who will not yield right of way to pedestrians not riding skateboards.

‘Reckless pedestrianism,’ I suppose, is what a more exact definition of that law could be called.

Even as a child poser skater who preferred watching others skate who were much better at it than I, how dangerous riding skateboards can be and how insulting and degrading it feels to be treated by people in authority as a low-life criminal.

A problem many democratic societies face is the temptation people in authority can have to twist basic laws in their favor, even though they may be flat-out wrong. Very recently, I witnessed three different confrontations between police and skateboarders, two of them resulting in citations given by police to people riding skateboards in downtown San Diego.

When any figure of authority lies to the public for financial or political gain, or simply because they need their superiors to believe they are busy and being diligent in their jobs, private citizens need to question the reasoning behind it.

The way in which the city’s municipal code is written in regards to skateboarders yielding right of way to pedestrians gives police broad leeway in deciding when and when not to issue a citation to a skateboarder.

However, as I observed near the corner of B Street and 5th Ave. not more than two months ago, when a police traffic officer tells three to four skaters that skateboarding is illegal on sidewalks in the city of San Diego, his interpretation of the law is diluted, inaccurate, and seems to beg the skater receiving the citation to talk back or give attitude in such a way that said officer is forced to offer more citations or put the skater under arrest.

As a passerby observing this confrontation, I couldn’t help but remember the teenage Mission Beach local skate-kid that had his skateboard confiscated by a steel-toe-boot-wearing police officer on Ventura Court outside of Hamel’s, sometime in the early eighties.

I remember three important facts about that event like it was yesterday, even though at the time, I was no more than eight or nine years old.

The first thing is that the parents of the skater who had his board confiscated got the board back without paying a fine. The second thing I remember is that my parents and all the parents of my friends that also skated in that area, warned us to stay away from police and tell an adult about any interaction we had with police, whether we ourselves thought it good or bad.

The third thing I remember has nothing to do with skateboarding but at some point in San Diego’s history, San Diego police stopped wearing combat style steel-toe boots when not wearing riot gear.

My favorite expression of freedom as defined by the U.S. Declaration of Independence is the freedom to pursue happiness.

Skateboarding is, for most of us, solely a recreational form of enjoying freedom. I always wonder when I see police or security guards harassing young skaters if the police would behave the same way if a professional skateboarder like Tony Hawk, who certainly can afford a good lawyer, was the person they stopped on a city sidewalk to issue a citation to.  In this city, like most others in the nation, money talks and bullsh*t walks.

While some may say that is just a fact of life in a capitalist society, people in authority like our SDPD, who are paid less than our County Sheriffs and local firefighters should remember their guns and badges serve every citizen in this city, not just the pens that sign their paychecks.

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Is skateboarding a crime?