The police may not be ticketing for smoking in the parks, but they are still ticketing parker visitors for crimes like…eating a doughnut in a playground. Yup, this weekend the police gave two young women in Bed-Stuy summonses for eating doughnuts in a playground while unaccompanied by a minor.
Tickets for being an adult in or around a playground have been popping up fairly frequently lately—see the Inwood chess players—but instead of giving the offending citizens a warning and urging them to leave, the NYPD’s M.O. appears to be to hand out a ticket. Here’s how our reader, an anthropology graduate student, describes her experience this weekend:
It was a glorious afternoon in early June when I took a friend of mine, who was visiting from New Haven, to Dough, an amazing doughnut shop in Bed-Stuy. Dough is tiny, but there was a park across the street, where I, as well as other doughnut lovers, had eaten doughnuts before. My friend and I entered the park, sat down on a bench and ate our doughnuts. Having finished, we sat there chatting for a few minutes.
As we were getting ready to move on, two officers approached us. Amongst themselves they debated whether the children’s toy next to us meant that we were there with a child. Then they asked us, “Are you here with a child?” We told them no. One of the cops moved on to the couple on a bench nearby, also ostensibly childless, while the other one asked for our IDs. We handed them over and soon we were being guarded by this cop as his partner took our IDs to their police car. My friend and I were confused. We had seen parks with gates that had a sign clearly stating that adults without children were not allowed in. This park had no such sign.
When the cop that was guarding us asked if we had ever gotten summonses before, I asked him if he could show me the sign that alerted people to the fact that they were about to commit a violation by sitting on a bench. We looked at the sign together. “That? I’m supposed to read that?” I asked. He said yes. It was a list of about fifteen park regulations. You would have to be no more than three feet away from it in order to read it. It looked something like this. Except there were no bullet points. Would they issue a kid a summons for standing on the swings? Or an adult, in the company of a child, a summons for taking off her shoes? According to the violation we got, 1-03(c2), “not complying with park signs,” they could do that. Based on my experience, I actually think they would.
I got really angry and asked the officer if he honestly believed he was helping this community by giving us these summonses. His response only made me more angry. “I don’t believe in anything,” he said. “You don’t believe in anything? In helping people? Then you probably shouldn’t be a cop,” I said. This did not make him happy and he asked me, “Well, do you think you are being a model citizen right now?” I knew that I had to stop talking, that I was taking this too much to heart, that my poor visitor was getting more and more anxious, but I could not believe what was happening. “Do you think that being a model citizen means saying nothing when you see something you disagree with being done with your tax dollars? Because that is a model citizen in a totalitarian country.” He just shook his head at me. And at that point I did stop talking.
His partner returned. He had written two of the summons. We had been there for over twenty minutes now. He handed over our IDs to the cop that had been guarding us. Of course, they each had their own numbers to maintain so they were splitting the violations.
This cop attempted to be sympathetic. He proceeded to tell us that he was trying to be a gentleman by just giving us summonses instead of taking us in for questioning, because that was what “they” wanted him to do. If he just gave us warnings and told us to leave, he would get in trouble for “doing nothing all day.” He went on to say that all he did when he was growing up was “do Tae Kwon Do and go to school.” “Are you trying to say that we are bad people for sitting on a bench in a park and eating doughnuts?” I asked him, just trying to figure out where he was going with this. “No, no, I’m just saying that I never got in trouble. Sometimes I play basketball,” he said, pointing at the courts behind him. Not in that park, he doesn’t. Not unless he has a kid strapped to his back at the time.
Finally, we were given our summonses and were free to go. Because we hadn’t been drinking alcohol or urinating in public, we do not have the option of pleading guilty by mail. Not that I am planning on pleading guilty. But either way, we have to show up in court or a warrant will be issued for our arrest. My friend does not live in New York and I am out of the country all summer, so this is going to be an ordeal in itself, given that the summons has no information on how to contact the court. Nor do we know how much we owe. Because the cops had no idea about that, either. They were just “doing their jobs,” in the most mindless sense of that phrase.
I have three little nephews and I appreciate that keeping children safe is the thinking behind this rule. But this is basically trying to deter pedophiles with the equivalent of a speeding ticket. Meanwhile, in parts of the city with minimal amounts of public green spaces, people are taught that they are being “bad” citizens for sitting on a bench for a few minutes. The regulations are as they are and they were posted, but does the issuing of summonses to people who even the police do not actually believe are posing a danger, with no prior warning, accord with the law’s protective intent?
And for the record, this was at the Lafayette Gardens Playground, on Lafayette and Franklin Avenues, which is not to be confused with the Crispus Attucks Playground, a.k.a. “Prostitution Park,” a few blocks away.
Nobody is saying that these women were in the right by sitting and eating their doughnuts on a bench in a playground rather than a park, they weren’t, but should the police have jumped to give them a summons so quickly? What do you think?