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East Bay | Arts + Action | Fault Lines

BERKELEY SKATERS FIND REFUGE IN DIY PARK
by David Ochs Keenan
Friday Oct 7th, 2005 3:29 PM
Imagine for a moment the following scenario: You’re watching some friends playing a game of touch football at a local ball field like you’ve done for years. Suddenly, out of nowhere, police paddy wagons pull up to the curb, officers stream out, block the exits, and line everyone up against a fence. Overnight, not wearing helmets or shin guards is a serious crime. You watch incredulously as everyone gets yelled at, ID’d, then finally, ticketed. But these aren’t parking tickets. They’re full fledged misdemeanor offenses and they’re the beginning of a criminal record. And they start at $100. You realize that some of those kids will not be able to pay, and these tickets will go to warrants before many of them can even drive. Imagine this happening several times a week, and worse, imagine that there’s absolutely no compelling legal reason for it to happen in the first place. and now understand that this is happening not to footballers, but skateboarders, for not wearing a full suit of elbow, knee, and helmet protection at the skatepark immediately adjacent to the ball fields off Harrison Street in Berkeley. Though a seemingly progressive city, Berkeley has chosen to pointlessly socialize their youth population to resent authority figures.
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Imagine for a moment the following scenario: You’re watching some friends playing a game of touch football at a local ball field like you’ve done for years. Suddenly, out of nowhere, police paddy wagons pull up to the curb, officers stream out, block the exits, and line everyone up against a fence. Overnight, not wearing helmets or shin guards is a serious crime. You watch incredulously as everyone gets yelled at, ID’d, then finally, ticketed. But these aren’t parking tickets. They’re full fledged misdemeanor offenses and they’re the beginning of a criminal record. And they start at $100. You realize that some of those kids will not be able to pay, and these tickets will go to warrants before many of them can even drive. Imagine this happening several times a week, and worse, imagine that there’s absolutely no compelling legal reason for it to happen in the first place. and now understand that this is happening not to footballers, but skateboarders, for not wearing a full suit of elbow, knee, and helmet protection at the skatepark immediately adjacent to the ball fields off Harrison Street in Berkeley. Though a seemingly progressive city, Berkeley has chosen to pointlessly socialize their youth population to resent authority figures.

At the Berkeley skatepark police have been handing out criminal records like candy to Berkeley’s youth since last April. After four years of tolerance, the Berkeley City Attorney’s office inexplicably panicked at a new and mysterious fear of ‘increased liability,’ even though none of the state or local laws have changed and no known skate park-injury lawsuit has ever been filed by a skateboarder in the state of California. Statutes have been in effect since the late 90’s with the specific purpose of indemnifying local-cities against skatepark injuries. But unfortunately, about half of California cities with skateparks - including Berkeley - interpret the same statute laws as an excuse to harass skaters for ticket money.

Meanwhile, regular park skaters are pushed back out to the pedestrian- and car-clogged streets the park was supposed to lure them from in the first place. The same streets, where in fact, almost all skateboarding injuries and deaths actually occur, according to recent studies by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The study also shows that skateboarding is a radically less injurious an activity than many organized sports where players are typically penalized by referees, not police – for example football and basketball, which have an injury rate over twice that of skateboarding.

The relentless harassment provided reason enough for local skaters to spend months secretly pouring their own concrete to build a park less than five miles down the road, nestled under a freeway overpass. West Oakland’s own ‘Bordertown’ is a DIY park whose unlikely survival made local headlines in early August, when the already built, established, and skateable park was finally ‘discovered’ by CalTrans as they were serving eviction notices to homeless encampments under the same freeway.

Almost overnight, Bordertown was spared CalTrans’ threatened demolition and sanctioned with the help of an ad-hoc coalition that included Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer. As the East Bay Express detailed on August 10th, the once-illegal parks’ victory was the result of swiftly executed behind-the-scenes preparation and savvy media management. The coverage powerfully reframed the image of skaters from the ‘default’ negative stereotype of reckless deviants who go out of their way to make trouble for cops, to that of initiative-taking, urban-blight-removing, can-do community-builders. As the community-positive story spread quickly through mainstream news, the skate park’s status morphed from illicit to legitimate in mere days, and marked the latest victory in a string of unlikely successes for a small number of similar DIY skateparks from San Diego to Portland.

Rejecting the traditional formula of agonizingly slow park-building through ‘official’ channels, these skaters and community activists moved first to independently reclaim, and quietly rebuild - with donated labor and materials - a trash-strewn, druggie-infested urban wasteland. When parks like these are ‘discovered’, skaters then agitate for political approval at the highest levels by courting public opinion in the mainstream press. Since its merit as a valuable community project of urban renewal is already established, the park becomes a politically powerful reality.

The Bordertown project helped people to appreciate what Berkeley seems to have forgotten – that skateparks offer a uniquely collaborative and creative nexus of positive social space. It leaves traditional ethnoracial, generational, and class divisions in the dust, a phenomenon all too rare in today’s urban centers, and one that quite rightfully needs to be built up and nurtured, not torn down or criminalized.
§Oaklander 'Major' (14) drops in
by David Ochs Keenan Friday Oct 7th, 2005 3:29 PM
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Comments  (Hide Comments)

by PiratePrentice
Friday Oct 7th, 2005 4:13 PM
After news of the Iraq quagmire and the Katrina relief fiascos and the Halliburton's graft and corruption and < insert your favorite disaster here >, This report is this report is a breath of fresh air. It reminds me what we're all about....

Community Self-Organiation works. Direct Action works. Not only do they work, these behavior's work, they're happeining all the time, and all around us.
by yesh
Friday Oct 7th, 2005 10:55 PM
yep prirate whats its face rocks
by Fwekin Squid
Saturday Oct 8th, 2005 12:04 PM
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... cheers to the bravado and can-do spirit here ...

In like 1977-to-79ish ... from like Venice Beach to Huntington Beach (pictured here) and, probably way more places by then ... anyway, you could sometimes find or build ... an all-wood, dIY halfpipe ... if the transitions were angled correctly (a little tighter back then) ... you could fakey in it and easily get verticle without having to face a steep and/or gnarly drop-in ... so, as skate sessions progressed, newcomers were soon pulling off one-wheelers, backside kickturns and minor arials and so forth ... All kinds of individual style and trickery would ensue ... but, man the volume of the cement pour here at Borderlands and the nice curving design ... I'm like blown away ... and, I guess I should add that this East Bay taxpaying entity can't wait to check it out and to carve it up in an old school style ... Fwekin Squid