Men Cited For Engaging In Battlefield Simulations Near Childrens’ Playground

First it’s chess. Then Sun Tzu. Eventually you have a militia on your hands overthrowing the government. That’s how these things progress, right?

The scourge must be stopped at its source!

A group of seven mild-mannered chess players are due in criminal court next month after police officers from the 34th Precinct issued them summonses for playing their favorite board game in Inwood Hill Park.

The men were ticketed on Oct. 20 for being inside of Emerson Playground, a children’s play area off limits to adults unaccompanied by minors. But the men were in an area furnished with stone chess and backgammon tables — separated from the play area by a fence.

“There is a problem in this area with drug dealing, but the police have time to write tickets to people playing chess?” asked Yacahudah Harrison, 48, one of the men who received a summons for “Fail[ing] to comply with signs.”

“Under my direction, uniformed officers routinely enter the parks to enforce closing times and other regulations; all designed to protect the community,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“The NYPD allows for officers to issue summonses in lieu of effecting an arrest for appropriate offenses.”

But Inwood residents expressed outrage that the NYPD would target the chess players in light of the men’s history as caretakers and teachers for the next generation of Inwood chess players.

“This is a positive thing for our kids to see and do, it’s a positive mental activity for them,” said Regina Christoforatos, 38, whose 6-year-old daughter Zoe has been learning chess in the park.

(emphasis added)

The police captain claims that this is to protect the community.

What community needs to be protected from games of chess played in the park?

Hat Tip: Free Range Kids

  • Inwood Resident

    The story has gotten blown way out of proportion. Look, peanut gallery, most of you don’t live in Inwood. We’re having problems with low level crime — car windows, muggings, etc. A mother pushing a stroller was mugged at 6:30 pm outside an Inwood playground last week, so everyone here has been up in arms for the 34th (which is located in Washington Heights, far from Inwood) to start paying attention. Most of us are glad to see them starting to sweep the park, which is all this was. (Muggers can pretend to play chess too, you know.) Lay off the cops – we’ve finally gotten them to get out of their cars and now you’re all over them because arresting people for playing chess makes for a cute headline.

    The playground in question is way out of date and the chess tables are an old legacy. The chess community is welcome to press for relocated chess facilities. But in the meantime, we need safe playgrounds that, yes, do not have groups of single men hanging out in them.

  • Akston

    Plus, the kids can choke on those chess pieces. Shame on you Brad! Don’t you know that all single males are guilty until proven innocent in Inwood? If we can just eliminate that pesky “probable cause” nonsense, we can clean up the park and eliminate all those middle aged chess hooligans. They might all be serial killers! Anyone not from Inwood cannot possibly feel the hysteria required to criminalize peaceful activity in a public place. Presumption of innocence should not prevent us from the safety of our expanding police state.

  • Brad Warbiany

    Inwood Resident,

    Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps one of those chess players just happens to also be a mugger. Perhaps it is best to ticket all chess players in the park on the off chance that one might commit a crime.

    But I don’t buy it. In a community, people know each other. I would think that if one of those chess-playing men was a mugger, he would be relatively easy to identify given that I’m quite sure a lot of the same families and a lot of the same chess players frequent that location. Usually criminals don’t like to know their victims personally, as it makes them easy to identify. But perhaps in Inwood, that’s not the case.

    I think the more likely scenario, as perhaps you point out, is that the local cops aren’t members of the community. They have no appreciation for the long history of the park. They have no appreciation for the traditions of the chess-playing men. In fact, they probably resent getting out of their cars and would much rather go back to harassing motorists. As such, they’ve decided to crack down on miniscule offenses that have nothing to do with public safety, because they don’t really understand the local community or its residents.

    Instead of defending the police for ticketing non-violent chess players, perhaps you should entreat Captain Navarro to have his officers spend more time in the community. Only by getting to know the history, traditions, and people of the community can an officer make a distinction between a chess player and a mugger.

    To be fair, my post was clearly a “peanut gallery” response. I had not the time nor energy to delve into this deeper. But there is a history and philosophy behind my writing that you may better understand if you read more of what we write here at TLP.

  • Justin Bowen

    What community needs to be protected from games of chess played in the park?

    The same kind of community that needs protection from butt-slapping middle-school boys, picture-taking dads, and black men (do we really need any links for this one).

  • Akston

    Okay Brad, go ahead and shame me with a measured response. :)

    My beef is really with the growing number of safety Nazi’s who seem to live life in quaking terror and compensate for it by inviting an ever-expanding incursion into others’ peaceful pursuits..

    A primary role of government is indeed national and public security. But without limits like probable cause and presumption of innocence – codified in the Fourth Amendment – we end up with abuses like TSA scanning and pat downs of toddlers.

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    If Barney Fife wants to ticket chess players in the park, I guess it isn’t the fall of western civilization. But the slope seems a bit slippery to me, given other abuses already in progress.

  • Pingback: Note to NYPD: This Is Not How You Improve Relations With the Community()

  • Angel Elf

    This is just a case of discrimination against single or married people that don’t have children. My taxes pay for these parks but I am prohibited from using them just because I have no children. This not only applies to chess, but I can’t have my lunch in any park or simply sit down and enjoy being outside on a beautiful day. Why not partition the parks? Have a section for adults where children are not allowed? Isn’t this “don’t-be-here” regulations simply unconstitutional anyway? This law should be struck down.

  • Stephen Littau

    @ Angel Elf

    Its my understanding that these chess players violated a “park rule” as opposed to a law. This may be a distinction without a difference but either way, the cops were out of line here.

  • Inwood Resident

    A rambling response: There are many layers to this story that go far beyond ticketing chess players. The design of this particular playground was ancient and not up to code, and the chess tables were within the playground (in New York, all playgrounds in the city have a 6 ft tall fence around them and the gates are locked at night). They should have been moved long ago – so Parks screwed up. The chess players were, to be fair, a scruffy bunch. The quoted Mr. Harrison actually lives inside the subway station at 207th St, something that some people may think is great and others may think is an example of tolerance gone a bit far. The park is very large and draws people from all over Upper Manhattan and the Bronx (population: millions) – this is not the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. The playground is a tiny section of the larger park – no one is being denied use of the greater park itself. It’s no different than people without dogs not being technically allowed in the dog run, or non baseball players allowed on the baseball fields during permitted games. These parks are heavily used, much more than whatever city you live in, and the rules help maximize use and enjoyment without conflict. That said, the playground rules are definitely overreaching but still useful because they let cops (when exercising good judgement) pick up people who may commit major crimes later (broken windows theory) or because you are familiar with the film “80 Blocks from Tiffanys” (google it). I’m not from New York originally, and where I’m from such rules and fences do not exist. But this is a tough town and ideology aside there is some use to having regulations that on paper might seem like a police state. Finally, this kind of thing happens all the time but blew up this time because a highly-energized parent posted like crazy to a YahooGroups newsgroup, which a reporter for an online local paper was a member of, which the major papers then picked up because of the irrestible chess vs police headline, which then ended up spread across the internet. Sheesh.