The plan was incredibly simple: Take the subway to City Hall, go up the stairs, and head to Love Park, skateboard in hand. Give the deck to someone to hold on to while I go and give a brief speech, reminding all the skateboarders of the simple rules and laws, that they can't skate here, but the sidewalks were legally allowed to us. To wear my stuff shirt and tie and show my self as still one of them.
My heart was racing although I knew all would be fine.
Then I saw them, two officers almost waiting to greet me as the skies remained gray above. They wore bright blue shirts and were not happy at my arrival. It was 10:58 AM and from a quick look around... no one was around. An odd sight for Go Skateboarding Day in Philadelphia, very odd indeed. "You know you can't skate here?," the officer asked while making the statement. I knew it very well. Dilworth Plaza has been off limit to skateboarders for years, and I was fine with that.
"I know, " I said, already feeling my lips tremor a little, not very easy though knowing I'm in the right. "Skateboarding is banned here, LOVE Park, and the Municipal Services building-"
"And the sidewalk and anywhere else in Center City."
"Um.... no? I have a copy of the law stating sidewalks are fine with me."
"Look, if we catch you, it's a $1000 fine, you loose your board, and you go to jail! I've already got 10 skateboards in my trunk! Now I'm giving you a warning!"
The other officer stood there, loosing his patience as I tried to calmly explain that... well, they were wrong. Its always an odd spot to be in, and you rarely ever win. But I had the law on my side, and a copy on my cellphone... that was getting increasingly hard to get to. As I tried to reason, the other officer took out his citation pad, ready to give me a ticket for doing nothing more than stating my case.
"Are you filming this? Go ahead, I don't care! Get my badge number, too!"
"I'm not filming you."
"Yeah, of course your not!"
While this was happening, a woman on a bicycle began to ride up towards the plaza and continued onto the plaza. "Well, aren't you going to arrest her? She's breaking the law!" "No."
"Why not?" "Because bicyclist... bicyclists don't go around jumping everywhere and damaging property." Anyone will tell you that... no, that isn't the truth. Anyone will also tell you that this was discrimination and selective enforcement of the law. A law that clearly reads on a sign that skateboarders, scooters, and bicyclists are banned from riding Dilworth Plaza, but I'm being targeted for simply walking peacefully? For getting ready to skateboard within the law?
I took a deep breath and tried to find the law. I couldn't, and I was just getting frustrated. I left the steps, crossed the street, and wrote down his badge number in my book. I will be reporting him to his officer.
The rest of the day was a proverbial washout. Officers surrounded LOVE Park, showing very little of it for skateboarders, and the Municipal Services Building was as well. Other skateboarders arrived to enjoy the day... but to no avail. I took photos, did interviews, talked to people, and spent the entire day doing that.
Talking to some skaters outside the 7-Eleven across LOVE Park, we talked a bit and soon 4 Red Bull cars pulled up. We knew what this meant: FREE RED BULL!!! We all ran over to get a free soda and the ladies organized a skateboarding contest. The police permitted it to happen, and a lot of fun was had by all!
I walked back over to Dilworth Plaza to talk to some people when I ran into someone I knew who was also taking photos. We soon headed up to "3 Block", a famous local skate spot, and taking a ton of photos there of local skaters. A quick trip to McDonalds and I was on my way back to Center City.
It was now 2PM and the area was still empty. Sporadic skateboarders here and there, while the Eastern Side of City Hall on Market Street was home to those who chose to enjoy the day unhindered. By 3:30PM, I had had my fill of not being able to enjoy what I legally should have been allowed to and headed home. Of course, this was right after taking some awesome photos at the Criminal Justice Center. Oh, the irony of it all!
Meanwhile, the entire day also consisted of being harangued by homeless people and drug addicts for change everywhere, and of people questioning why, exactly, skateboarders were being harangued.
I could go on and on about how things like this detract from the image of the city. I could go on and on about how much money skateboarding brings to Philadelphia, or would if enforcement of the law wasn't as biased. I could go on, even, about the simple fact that the office who spoke to me was wrong and that the most I would be fine would only be $300 as well as confiscation of the board, with actually being sent to jail being a last resort. I could go on and on about all of this.
Today... today I won't. Instead, I will simply sit and wait. I've got a long article to write about skateboarding in Philadelphia.
For now, though, lets focus on those who did get to enjoy this beautiful day! I have photos of people making the most of it and pulling off some simply incredible and wonderful tricks!
Check out the full set on Flickr!