Our Opinion: Skateboarding is not a crime, commissioners
Posted on December 16, 2020
Updated on December 21, 2020
Stock photo | Pixabay
Spring Hope commissioners and Police Chief Nathan Gant discussed two young skateboarders during the town board's Dec. 7 meeting.
Bringing the full weight of town government to bear against two skateboarders would cast Spring Hope in a negative light, deterring the young families any small town needs to attract as new residents if it wishes to grow and prosper."
Psychologist and public intellectual Jordan Peterson’s bestseller “12 Rules for Life” should be required reading for Spring Hope residents and town leaders.
Start with Rule No. 11 — “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.”
The Spring Hope Board of Commissioners’ Dec. 7 meeting included a group gripe over two young men known for riding their skateboards around town. Devoting time to what most would consider a minor issue seems like a satirical send-up of mundane bureaucracy fit for a “Parks and Recreation” script.
Police Chief Nathan Gant expressed concern for the skaters’ safety, telling commissioners they sometimes skate in traffic and gravely reporting that one hitched a ride on N.C. 581 by grabbing the back of a box truck. But the public hand-wringing seemed to be more about community members’ discomfort than these skateboarders’ well-being.
Spring Hope police have been inundated with complaints and 911 calls, Gant said. Some center on a common hangout — Food Lion, where the youths ride their skateboards in the parking lot.
The supermarket is private property, and police can’t stop people from skateboarding there without permission from the store manager or the shopping center’s owners. Food Lion isn’t inclined to banish the duo, much to town officials’ consternation.
Police are sworn to enforce state and local laws. Weighing in on a grocery chain’s parking lot policies, however, isn’t a proper role for Spring Hope’s elected and appointed officials. Food Lion is capable of making its own business decisions without undue government interference.
To their credit, Gant said police have offered use of the town tennis courts or a designated downtown street section, but he said the skaters haven’t taken them up on the offer.
Invoking public safety, Gant said he’ll impound the skateboards if he catches their owners obstructing traffic in town streets. Police would have to witness such a violation in order to take enforcement action, as skating in the streets itself isn’t against the law.
State statutes “do not address rollerblades or skateboards,” according to “A Guide to North Carolina Bicycle and Pedestrian Laws,” a 70-page booklet published by the N.C. Department of Transportation. “These issues are sometimes governed by local ordinances.”
Section 18-59 of the Spring Hope town code makes it unlawful to ride a bicycle or skateboard “on any sidewalk in the central business district,” but there’s no blanket ban on skating in the streets. Police can’t enforce laws that don’t exist.
Some questions of relative danger are subjective. Many people would feel unsafe riding a bicycle on a major thoroughfare, but North Carolina law expressly grants cyclists the same right of access as motorists and admonishes drivers to share the road.
That brings us back to Peterson’s Rule 11. While the skateboarding motif is a metaphor for allowing young people to take risks rather than coddling them, the Canadian professor’s injunction is literal as well as figurative. In a November 2017 interview with Dave Rubin, Peterson said skateboarding can teach competence and courage.
“The kids are often shooed away,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Wait a sec. They’re practicing being courageous. They’re practicing mastering something in the face of danger.’”
Skateboarding seems to grate on town leaders because some of their constituents think it’s annoying, inconvenient or unsightly. If safety concerns were the genuine motive, the issue would have been handled in private conversations with the youths and their families.
Disparaging the skaters in an open Board of Commissioners meeting without notifying them or giving them an opportunity to defend themselves was regrettable. Though the skaters weren’t named, nods and knowing glances suggested everyone in the room knew exactly who he was talking about. They didn’t deserve to be the subject of public complaints without warning.
While we applaud police and commissioners for trying to find a compromise that would please skaters and complainers alike, we urge officials to avoid a heavy-handed crackdown. Bringing the full weight of town government to bear against two skateboarders would cast Spring Hope in a negative light, deterring the young families any small town needs to attract as new residents if it wishes to grow and prosper.
For the Springhopians speed-dialing the police department, ask yourselves whether the skating you see is really posing imminent danger to drivers or passersby or whether it’s just youngsters being youngsters. Call the police if it’s the latter, but resist the urge if it’s the former. Law enforcement officers’ job is to solve crimes, not scold youths for getting on your nerves.
If skateboarders aren’t breaking the law, leave them alone.
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