Age discrimination on wheels Since when is skateboarding a crime?

April 19, 1996

WITH THEIR oversized shirts, baggy pants, baseball caps and Doc Marten high-top shoes, Annapolis skateboarders may appear slightly menacing to your average adult, but they are not criminals.

The idea of slapping these kids with $50 fines for skateboarding on streets and sidewalks downtown in the state capital is nonsensical, particularly if the city makes no effort to designate a suitable place for these kids to skate.

Annapolis officials and police claim skateboarding kids are running amok and causing problems for pedestrians, but supporters of the proposed fine haven't been able to substantiate their claims. The police department has no statistics on accidents involving skaters.

The fact is that most skaters using the sidewalks maneuver around pedestrians much the way bicycle riders do when they illegally ride on the sidewalks. Are police going to be as vigilant in pursuing adults on bicycles as they plan to be against kids on skateboards?

When people complain that these kids are skating on streets and in parking garages after midnight, the argument that the skaters are dangerous to others falls flat on its face. Just as sailors need a broad expanse of water for their sport, skaters need the ramps, steps and curbs for theirs. With the exception of a few people wandering the streets after the bars close -- and we know downtown residents don't care about them -- and a few cats hunting for mice, these late-night skaters are not bothering anyone.

This tempest is not about run-away skaters jeopardizing the safety of pedestrians. It is about adults trying to impose their tastes on kids -- an age-old story -- and showing their disdain for perfectly innocent activities youths enjoy. The City Council can't pass ordinances dictating proper dress for youths, but it can ban them and their skateboards. Why are skateboards being singled out when they aren't any more dangerous than the yuppie, single-blade roller skaters, who are also usually out in force on warm, sunny days?

It is easy to pick on kids who can't vote. Instead of egging them into truly destructive criminal behavior, Annapolis officials should drop this absurd campaign to turn skaters into outlaws.

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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