Friday, April 20, 2012

Is skate park closure a case of blaming victim?

City officials gathering information on vandalism and bullying

Express Staff Writer

After Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle closed the city's world-class skate park last week to teach a lesson to vandals and bullies, the executive director of the Skate Park Association USA contacted the Idaho Mountain Express to share some lessons of her own.

Haemmerle said at a City Council meeting on Monday that he had learned much "information" about the trouble at the park as a result of the closure, presumably from informants.

But how much should skaters be expected to do to police a city park?

"This vandalism happens a lot and sometimes a city closes the park in an effort to force 'skaters' to patrol and enforce the park themselves, to keep it open," stated Heidi Lemmon, executive director of the Venice, Calif.,-based Skate Park Association USA, in an email. "This is never a good idea ... to encourage youth to take on a job that clearly belongs to police or park rangers. I can cite several instances where the troublemakers attacked the youth who were left to the chore and ended up hospitalized."

Lemmon said in an interview that closing a skate park because of the bad behavior of non-skaters can be viewed as "blaming the victim," or discrimination against skaters in general. She advised beefing up patrols and installing emergency call boxes instead.

"If this was something happening at the tennis courts, they [the city] would not close it," she said. "They would take care of the problem. If you are out hiking on a trail near Hailey and you get shot at, would you expect to be told that you can't hike? They should go after the people with the BB guns."

Haemmerle and the City Council heard on Monday a report from a skater in fourth grade about non-skaters leaving trash at the park. Councilman Pat Cooley congratulated the boy for coming forward, saying, "After all, it's your park."

But Lemmon said "giving" the park to a particular group of skaters is not a good idea.

"Good leadership at a skate park comes from the fact that no one owns it, only the city owns it," she said. "If you give someone a territory and tell them to protect it, they'll feel like they have to. They'll also decide who can ride there and who cannot, and make it miserable for newcomers."

Haemmerle said at the council meeting Monday that he was open to creating a skate park subcommittee, perhaps within the Parks and Lands Board.

Haemmerle said he will attend a skate park spring cleanup event, scheduled for Saturday, April 21, from 3-5 p.m. The mayor said he would also take the opportunity to hear from skaters and parents on how the city can come up with lasting solutions to keep the skate park safe and clean.

Tony Evans:

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