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Skateboarding has a long history of criminalization. Skaters have been targeted with trespassing and vandalism laws since the inception of the sport. Many cities employ the same hostile architecture and deterrent devices used to target homelessness against the skateboarding community as well. Skating is also policed with curfews and “no skate zones.” All this despite studies showing skating is an effective youth development strategy that lowers crime, fosters creativity, and reduces childhood obesity. Skating is good for cities too. The presence of skaters adds life and interest to ill- or underused public spaces.
So is skateboarding a crime? It’s not illegal to buy, sell, or possess a skateboard. Associating with skateboarders is not illegal. Riding a skateboard is not illegal. So why then if skateboarding itself is not illegal are there countless examples of police encounters with skateboarders? Why are skateboarders policed as if it’s a crime? Asking these questions uncovers the clear solidarity between the skating community and the Black Lives Matter movement. The connection deepens when you examine the history of racism in skating with skating rinks prohibiting black skaters. If they cannot skate in the designated skating areas, they are left with two options: skating in violation of community mandates and subject to trespassing laws, curfews, and “no skate zone” fines or not skating at all, which any skater will tell you is hardly a choice.
Ending racism and police brutality are goals shared across many communities: black, indigenous, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQIA+, the poor, and countless others, including skaters. Racism and white supremacist capitalism is an American problem that affects everyone and studying skating history is an accessible way to see how it touches everything and everyone.
On June 21, Baltimore skaters organized with Queer Skate Baltimore and Skate for Change. Together, skaters occupied and skated the area around City Hall. Watching skaters grind and flip off rails and benches in areas regularly denied them was powerful on its own, but the community used their voices too. Skate protesters chanted the names of people killed by police since George Floyd and demanded justice. “We’ll keep coming back, every week, every day if we have to, until we are heard and until there is change.”
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