Chess Players harassed by police… again!

A controversy is brewing in New York after seven chess players were cited with trespassing tickets at a playground for children. The men were playing in Inwood Hill Park when they were approached by police officers who issued tickets (one for each player) for playing at the chess tables built at the park.

According to a report released yesterday at DNAinfo.com, the men were cited on October 20th for being inside of Emerson Playground, a children’s play area inside of the park. This area is off limits to adults unaccompanied by minors, perhaps an effort to prevent sexual predators. In this area there are tables with inlaid chess board separated from the play area by a fence. The authorities cite drug-dealing as the reason for the code, but the players were befuddled at the harassment.

“There is a problem in this area with drug dealing, but the police have time to write tickets to people playing chess?” asked Yacahudah Harrison, 48, who was one of the men cited. The men have to appear in criminal court for the offense of playing chess. People in the community expressed outrage at the citations saying that these men were upstanding citizens and were mentors of many children in the area.

Yacahudah 'Y.A.' Harrison playing chess with a neighborhood child this summer on the table with a chessboard inlay inside Emerson Playground at Inwood Hill Park. (DNAinfo/Carla Zanoni)

Yacahudah “Y.A.” Harrison playing chess with a neighborhood child this summer on the table with a chessboard inlay inside Emerson Playground at Inwood Hill Park. (DNAinfo/Carla Zanoni)

This is not the first time chess players have been harassed. Years ago in Chicago’s Hyde Park, chess tables were removed after some of the business people complained about loitering. They also cited drug-dealing in the area. Earlier this year in San Francisco, chess players on Market Street were moved from the main district to a side street after having been at the locale for nearly 30 years.

Most of the men playing in these parks are typically of African descent. According to chess player Aggrey Duncan, another case in Newark, New Jersey during the early 90s saw 40 players banned from a park. He added that the same fate met players in Brooklyn.

Chess-players playing in the park on Eastern Parkway, between Washington and Classon, became the targets for continuous harassment and ticketing for being in the park after 6 p.m. This park known to many chess players as Mount Olympus, and which gave rise to GM Maurice Ashley, and was visited on many occasion by the Number one player of Italy, GM Fabiano Caruna, when he was a kid. This very park which saved a lot of minorities from roaming the streets, by being actively engaged in a positive mental exercise.

The players in Inwood Hill Park have made a makeshift table on top of a stone wall to play. Captain Jose Navarro stood by his officers’ actions. According to DNAinfo.com, Navarro stated, “Under my direction, uniformed officers routinely enter the parks to enforce closing times and other regulations; all designed to protect the community.”

Protecting the community from chess players? Could it have been more prudent to issue a verbal warning so that these issues could be addressed, or is this yet another attempt to harass men of a certain ethnicity and/or class? The irony in all this is that chess is an integral part of the fabric of New York.

With the added legend of Washington Square Park and the 24-hour chess shop in Greenwich Village, there has been a reverence for the game since Bobby Fischer walked the streets of New York. The recent policed harassment of the players in Inwood Hill is certainly a questionable decision given that the tables were put there for the purpose of people using them.

Read “Chess Players Ticketed by NYPD for
Using Inwood Hill Park Chess Tables

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

7 Comments

  1. The irony is that by being omnipresent, and “looking out” for their young proteges, the older chess players at the popular street locations actually help accomplish exactly what law enforcement desires … reduces the attractiveness of an area to criminal elements. Drug dealers aren’t going to want to be active near such a visible, festive activity, especially when you have parents, siblings, etc., constantly showing up for the youngsters.

    Perhaps I am just unaware, but I’ve never seen in one of these articles where the chess players were ever accused of any real crimes – other than being somewhere playing chess.

  2. Yep RJT… crime PREVENTION was the argument in the Chicago case. I played at the venue and there were a lot of players there. Some of the people complained because there were people loitering, but it wasn’t the chess players. The businesses used that as an excuse thinking they’d get rid of the problem, but now that there are no tables there, I heard the negative elements increased.

  3. I’m sure the reaction would have been far different if these men had business suits on. What this also shows is the police were not being geniune since no warning was given. They were not protecting children. They were making a statement. This is simply police harassment.

  4. Hell, if you think those Black New York chess players humanity were violated by the usual culprits, what about the life of Oscar Grant in Oakland in the hands of a murderous officer and whose case was under the jurisdiction of a corrupt biased judge? You know us chess players tend to recognize patterns.

  5. In the late 90s, with plans to construct the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, chess players who played in a small park on Broad St Newark within the vicinity of the PSE&G complex, were one day forced into a harsh reality. The seats and walls on which they sat, were then reinforced with metal spikes down the middle of the seats, thereby ensuring no seating for playing chess or resting the chess-boards. This was then simultaneously accompanied by a Police presence which advise chess players that loitering was a criminal violation. The players found the open space on the premises of PSE&G an attractive alternative. But, they were soon confronted with loitering and trespassing threats again by the Newark Police.

    A petition to then Mayor James led to the understanding that chess playing in that public space is no longer permitted. Being creative and determined to play the game of their love, players found someway to become invited players at the Rutgers College Campus in Newark, even though they were not collegiate. At least this was a positive outcome, I am not sure what happens today with that situation.

    Fast forward to Bklyn, NY. The legendary GM Maurice Ashley, honed his foundation skills whilst playing with colleagues in the Prospect Park/Wendy’s chess playing Arena on Flatbush Ave and Empire Blvd in Brooklyn. Chess will be played in the park on nice days, and in Wendy’s when conditions are less favorable, and at nights.

    At some point in the late 90s chess was relocated from Prospect Park to the McNair Park known to Brooklyn chessplayers as Mount Olympus on Eastern Pkwy next to the Brooklyn Museum between Washington and Classon. This new arena offerred more light, more fresh air, more comfort and appealed to a wider cross-section of the Society. This arena was frequented by GM Ashley, and his former playmates FM Dr. William Morrison, FM Ronny Simpson, FM Steve Colding, Nathan Jackson, FM Gerald Times et al. Our own local hero Leon Munro was always on hand to take on challenges from newcomers purporting to be strong players or masters. It was in this arena that I had the occasion to play the current No.1 player of Italy GM Fabiano Caruna, then living in Brooklyn, when he was merely a kid, but a strong expert tending towards becoming a master. It was in this arena too that, Jonathan Corbblah honed his foundation chess-playing skills. Chess was played there all day and many weekends throughout the night.

    Then the renovations to the Brooklyn Museum were completed in the Mid 2000s, and the nightmare for Mount Olympus chess players began. Without warning, it was no longer OK to be in the park after dusk. After a few guys were ticketed and harassed by police for being in the Park after dusk, we reluctantly took our skills elsewhere.

    It is against this background that the current article linked below bothers me. The pattern continues.

    https://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_dnainfo/chess-players-ticketed-by-nypd-for-using-inwood-hill-park-chess-tables

    I believe that there is need to sell the idea to the authorities, that when young children are exposed to chess they have a head-start in developing their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Problem solving games like chess have many advantages over other types of games since it is very socially interactive. The kids learn to focus, they learn to evaluate positions, they learn consequences of their actions, they learn that winning is not all. They learn to be patient. They develop their skills of concentration. They also develop skills of rapid evaluation. They learn sportsmanship and gamesmanship. They learn to respect their opponents. It is observed that there is a consistently strong positive correlation become those becoming chess-players and positive academic results.

    The adults who engages in these games also benefits, in that, he/she finds a reshaping of their thought processes into logical patterns. They too learn to be analytical, they also learn, that to get better there is need for research and study, in which case they develop some attributes which at times many did not believe they possessed. They develop poise as a result of these attributes. They learn to be less confrontational in situations, as they develop real social bonds and respect for their social interactions. These are positive, in that it facilitates interactions with all social and economic groups, and new bonds of friendships. My very real friends are chess-players. In spite of our on-board rivalries, we have developed very close and caring bonds that transcends the game, that transcends race, that transcends socio-economic status, that transends geographic boundaries.

    When we get engaged in chess, we become members of our local chess community, our regional community, our state communities, our national communities, and even members of an international community. When the World chess champion or chess-players of that calibre visits an environment, they avail themselves to engage anyone who is present in that community and wishes to participate in simultaneous exhibitions. Usually, these events occurs in Parks very similar to the ones targetted. How embarassing would it be, if an International Player is engaging members of the public in open parks without pre-notice, and the cops show up to exercise their authority. How embarassing would that be for the city, state, nation?

    It is these positive attributes that needs to be registered with those concerned.

    I applaud authories when they do everything within their power to protect our children from would-be predators and pedafiles. But I have yet to hear of a chess player who fell into either category, or even if there were one, he is not representative of the entire chess community. I would also hazard to say, that very often chess may be an outlet that saves many a desperate or destitute person from being a negative influence within society. Sometimes this is an outlet for those homeless and jobless to relieve their stress and loneliness. Sometimes too, it is the outlet for those re-entering society after incarceration. What we have come to find is that it helps these personalities stay out of trouble. If these are the upside, then maybe chess should be encouraged more, especially where the need arises. It benefits all groups irrespective of socio-economic status.

    I hope that there is an amicable solution to the existing problem. I hope too, that the authorities may reconsider and find someplace more suitable for the chess-players to play, without encroaching on the environment and safety of our young citizens. In the picture I see an elderly gentleman playing with a young kid. This does not look like a threathening experience to me. In fact, I am very certain that the kid’s parents or guardian is supervising the kid during this social interaction. And so, it usually is! How bad can this be?

    Collectively as chess-players international, we need to call on the authorities to examine the positive attributes of these engagements and moreso the positive impact on developing critical thinking, particularly in parts of the society that needs it the most.

    Please Mr. Mayor, please Mr. Commisioner of Police, please consider all the above as you charge your officers with their responsibility of maintaining law and order in our societies. Chess-players are not the enemies of society. They help maintain the balance.

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Aggrey Duncan

    Brooklyn, NY

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