In late October, seven men playing chess at chess tables in a Manhattan park were issued summonses requiring them to appear in criminal court.
Did any park user or local resident complain about the chess players? News reports mention no complaints about them. As a matter of fact, some parents appreciated the men teaching their kids chess and were outraged by the summonses. As the tickets say, the men failed to comply with signs. Apparently, the chess tables they were using were adjacent to a children’s play area where adults without minors are not permitted to be.
Some commenters suggested the NYPD has more important things to do. Apparently not. You see, when neighborhood activity against the posted rules takes place, it’s a quality of life issue. Total submission to the biggest gang in every matter is the way to social peace.
As the New York Times reported (“Police! Step Away From the Chess Table,” Nov. 17), “a police spokesman said that the summonses were part of a larger campaign to clean up the park, driven by complaints from residents about crime.” In an effort to create a hostile environment for some criminals, the government engages in the crime of sending heavily armed people to take money from peaceable individuals under the threat of forcibly locking them in a cage.
To a consistently authoritarian mindset, a neighborhood is a mere administrative unit, not a community where individuals enrich each others’ lives through free association. Municipal authorities must keep everything under control. Their crackdowns make it more difficult for children to interact with adults in a cooperative, rather than authoritarian, manner. Criminalizing unauthorized communication disrupts bonds of solidarity and leaves people with fewer social connections to safely turn to.
Plus there are quotas to meet and money to be made. The Village Voice’s NYPD Tapes story shows how the need to present good statistics to superiors leads to officers harassing residents to meet ticket quotas. And there are operating costs for all their fancy equipment and all the time spent looking through bags on the subway. This is, after all, the same department that blocked bicycle lanes so they could ticket cyclists who needed to travel outside of the bicycle lanes to avoid them.
State control is not a necessary precondition for social life, but is actually an intrusion into social life that actively cripples the development of free association and autonomy. The goal of safety through submission begins with ceding responsibility to agencies with little accountability, corrodes community in favor of conformity with the posted rules, and ends with life and liberty subjected to the mercy of the powerful.