Skateboarders in Center City say members of the Philadelphia Police Department are using excessive force, bordering on brutality, against them.
The chances of that happening are unlikely. Mayor Nutter has made his plans for the park clear. “LOVE Park ultimately needs a complete makeover,” the mayor announced in 2008. “It could be our own version of Bryant Park in New York.”
The clash between cops and rebel skaters will no doubt come to a head during this weekend’s Go Skate Day 2009, an event held annually on the summer solstice—June 21.
Hanitschak and other skate community elders warn of the threat of violence for this year’s event. “I would guarantee that you’re going to see altercations.”
In years past, the event has ended in physical confrontations between police and skaters. A YouTube video of Go Skate Day 2005 perfectly documents how easily things can get out of control. Even with a permit, a crowd at the “Free LOVE Park” protest turned into a shoving match when cops tried to clear the park, which resulted in kids being hit with billy clubs and arrested. Last year, arrests were made after someone threw a water bottle at police.
That’s precisely why 37-year-old Jen Chattin plans on attending this year’s event with her sons. “I’ll even skateboard,” says the single mother of four boys. She’s fired up and ready to raise hell about the fact that a cop put his hands on her son.
Chattin was used to her 14-year-old son John and his friends coming home with stories about being bullied by police officers for skateboarding. But the protective mom wasn’t prepared to hear the story of a cop physically abusing her son.
“He gripped me up by the neck and slammed me against the glass wall [of the bank],” says John of the day he and a friend were skating outside of the TD Bank on 15th Street last month when two officers approached them.
“I’m thinkin’ they weren’t gonna say nothing to us cause we’re skatin’ here,” says the teen. John says he often skates in the area between the bank and Suburban Station and never had a problem with the cops.
But on this day, the teen, who weighs 110 pounds, says the cops grabbed him by the neck and then clotheslined his friend, giving him a bloody nose. The boys were not ticketed, but let go.
“I said, ‘You can’t do that,’ and he said, ‘I got a badge, I can do whatever the F I want.’”
Chattin was happy when her son picked up skateboarding as a hobby. In her mind it was better than him spacing out on television and video games all day, but after recent events all she wants is to galvanize other parents to protest excessive police force against skateboarders.
“You got kids from all over down at LOVE Park because there’s nowhere for them to go. We have Von Colln baseball field. My kids don’t want to play baseball. They want to skateboard.”
The worried mom says that the boys aren’t only chased and harassed downtown, but she’s seen cops tell her son he’s not allowed to ride his board in front of their own house in Fairmount.
Chattin says that calls to the captain of the officer who allegedly manhandled her child have gone unreturned. She hasn’t yet filed a formal complaint, but says she did contact a friend who works for Central Detectives and another who’s a lawyer. While no official censure has been recorded with the Philadelphia Police Department, John says at least a dozen of his friends told him that the officer was suspended.
After skating was made illegal, the city made a peace offering by donating land near the Art Museum for a public skatepark, which has been dubbed Franklin’s Paine Park Project. But eight years later, only $3.75 million of the $7 million estimated for the project has been raised. Project Executive Director Jamie Elfant plans to step down, opening up the position for someone who can take it to the next level, she says.
For now, smaller, legal skateparks have popped up in other neighborhoods, but older skaters say they quickly become crowded and less appealing. They’ve grown tired of waiting for ground to be broken on Franklin’s Paine, when LOVE’s material, shape, lines and ledges are just right.
But Chattin fears for her son’s safety every time he says he’s going downtown to skateboard.
“I told him, ‘When a cop chases you, stop,’” says the mom. “I try to teach my kids, don’t hate the cops. They [the police] gotta just leave these kids alone and go after the bad guys, ’cause these kids are not bad.”
Sunday was supposed to be Go Skateboarding Day 2009, which offered the possibility that the skaters and the cops at Love Park would have the angry, pointless run-in to end angry pointless run-ins. Instead, the whole thing kind of fizzled out. Larry West reports on the lameness.