By Brittany Kohn and Solenn Puech
Posted: Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016
Chicago’s large and growing skateboarding community boasts a diverse mix of participants – in age, origins and social backgrounds.
That community has clashed with law enforcement over the years, particularly when it comes to skateboarding out side of the city’s many skate parks, and more specifically, downtown.
Eighteen months ago, the city made a change in transportation policy that now prohibits skaters to riding in the Chicago Loop. The city has six skate parks, including a $2.7 million location in Grant Park, just blocks east of the Loop.
The Chicago municipal code states that “no person shall ride a skateboard upon any road or sidewalk in the business district,” Fines for doing so range from $25 to $200.
But many skaters interviewed for this story said they are not aware of the code nor are there any signs that state the skating is not allowed.
“I have heard of security that could stop you but I wasn’t aware there was a code or anything like that,” skateboarder Brandon Matthews.
The Chicago Police Department did not respond to several inquiries by The Red Line Project to respond to this story.
Especially because according to Cycling Magazine, it was highly degraded as a result of this new code. The reasons for this degradation were expanded on by different skateboarders interviewed below.
Video: Interview with Brandon Matthews, who has skated for 12 years (Video by Solenn Puech)
According to Matthews, there is an almost negative outlook toward the skater community with the Chicago Park District managing all the skate parks in Chicago. Although the Chicago government does support the skater community, authorities and law enforcement will sometimes contradict that. Hugo, whose interview can be found below, mentioned that at times, authorities have been giving out unnecessary fines to skaters when they are skating, not only outside skate parks but also within them.
Video: Interview with skateboarders Hugo and Alex (Video by Solenn Puech)
Based on what they said, many skateboarders believe they are targets because they are usually loud -- whether the noise comes from their boards or from yelling at the excitement of finally perfecting a trick.
Brian Edwards, 26, said security at downtown buildings makes it a point to target skaters and kick them off the property. Businesses cite the 18-month-old law as well as insurance liability for making the skaters leave.
“I've never had either recently, lots of security for each building comes out and kicks us out when skating a spot,” he said. “If we leave and skate right next door at a spot, the security for that building will eventually come out and kick us out, could be five minutes or could be an hour.
“Like 14 years ago I got handcuffed by three cops and struggled with them, just for riding past them on my board. They then said I was banned from Chicago and if they saw me riding again anywhere in Chicago I'd be arrested. Nowadays they usually just drive past and don't say anything, but we also try to not look obvious when we see them, or we stop trying tricks and just chill for a bit.”
180-degree video: Skateboarders at Grant Park (Video/Brittany Kohn)
Edwards said the skaters are being treated unfairly, adding that the sport has become more mainstream and will be featured in the Summer Olympics.
“Although I do understand that it can be dangerous for skateboarders to be on their skateboards within the Loop or so called ‘business district’, I think that can only be an issue during rush hours,” he said. “The only thing I find unfair is that skateboarding is now an official Olympic sport, and it is probably the only one where you can still be fined for. I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t know of any other Olympic sports being prohibited in other situations.
“I feel like this rule is directed toward the skateboarders and our culture more than the sport itself, and it is not justified.”
Some critics wonder how the counter-culture of skateboarding can fit into the clean cut Olympic games. It can be seen through skateboard equipment sales that skateboarding has been rising in popularity. Since it may be one of the most popular counter cultures around, it makes sense to start including it in the Olympics.
Related: Tony Hawk mentioned in a 2014 interview with Larry King that the Olympics needed to engage with a younger demographic. By bringing in skateboarding as an Olympic sport, the summer Olympics may have a bigger viewership among younger audiences.
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