January 06, 2011 5:58

New York City vs. chess players -- case dismissed

New York City Vs. Chess Players -- Case DismissedSix men were arrested in October for playing chess in a playground in a park in New York City. Two of them decided to fight the charges. Macauley Peterson, who went to the New York City Criminal Court in lower Manhattan yesterday, reports.

By Macauley Peterson

On October 20th, at two o’clock in the afternoon in New York City, a group of seven men were playing chess at built-in chess tables in a public park in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, as they had done numerous times before. Suddenly a NYC police patrol car rolled up to the gate of the park, and several officers approached the men and charged them with occupying the park unaccompanied by any children, in violation of a posted regulation meant to protect kids from pedophiles. The park was empty at the time.

The players were issued summonses and ordered to appear in court, and possibly to face trial. On December 28th, five of the men settled the case, with what’s known as an ACD -- adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. The charges will be fully dismissed provided the men have no further run ins with the law for six months. Two of the defendants, Yacahudah Harrison and Christopher Peralta, decided to seek a dismissal without any exceptions -- to fight for their right to play chess in public parks.

On the fourth floor of New York City Criminal Court in lower Manhattan, the Part B courtroom came to order at approximately 9:50 on Tuesday morning, with the Honorable Mark Whiten presiding.

Harrison and Peralta were the first item on the docket. Their attorney, Norman Siegel, a former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (full disclosure: I’m a member), immediately moved for dismissal of the summons arguing it was “defective.” The players were cited under parks department regulation 103-3, which indicates that the chess players should not be in the park if it were closed to the public. However on the day in question the park was open to the public.

The posted sign regarding being accompanied by children is from a different section of the park regulations. Therefore, the case was dismissed for both defendants.

The men say they even had explicit permission to be there from a park ranger, whose name was withheld to protect his or her privacy, and Mr. Siegal would have subpoenaed the ranger, if necessary, to testify.

Although dismissed on a technicality, the case raises a larger issue regarding chess tables in or near children’s parks. "People have a right to play chess, and children have a right to be in the park," said Siegal, who added he would follow up with the general counsel for the Parks Department, which may need to revise its policies.

New York City Vs. Chess Players -- Case Dismissed

From Left to Right, Christopher Peralta, Yacahudah Harrison, Norman Siegel, Earl Ward, outside the Manhattan Criminal Court Photo: Macauley

Defense co-counsel Earl Ward called the police decision to issue the chess players tickets immediately rather than giving them a warning, “zealous". Peralta lamented the whole incident saying "they treated us like criminals." Both he and Harrison are pleased to be able to put the matter behind them, and get back to the chess board, this time either in a local boutique / cafe which may offer them a playing space, or in the neighborhood McDonald's.

An audio clip with Yacahudah Harrison, comparing this case to the Muzio variation of the King’s Gambit, will be in the forthcoming episode of The Full English Breakfast.

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Sander's picture

You assume too much, and you are one to talk about being biased...

Anthony's picture

@S lol, well if we go bible: how about this:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Macauley's picture

This story is hardly an indictment of New York, or America. Such criticism is misplaced, IMO.

I was actually pretty impressed with the ease with which the players got the case dismissed. It was all over in less than 5 minutes.

It's a bit unfortunate they had to go to the trouble of appearing in court (twice), but in the end justice was served, and there may yet be some good to come out of it. E.g. Reexamining ill conceived park rules, ensuring police are serving the community effectively, etc.

And there's nothing particularly political about it either. Don't feed the trolls.

Castro's picture

I apreciate that, but, anyway, pls see the previous comment (calvin's)

Thomas's picture

In some ways I agree with you - it's not specifically about New York or the USA, this or something similar might happen in other countries (maybe without a "happy end").
But I think it's more than just a bit unfortunate, more than a minor inconvenience that they had to appear in court. In chess terms: they could hold the endgame (court decision), but there was, and for the time being still is something wrong with opening (ill-conceived law) and middlegame (policemen aiming to enforce the law without applying common sense).

Arne Moll's picture

Macauley, I totally agree this story doesn't say anything about the USA legal system, but I doubt you'd get arrested for such a 'crime' in a Western-European country. I myself once witnessed someone being arrested and handcuffed for smoking at JFK. At the time I, too, thought this was 'typical' USA law. I mean, sure, it's against the law to smoke at an airport, but to actually *arrest* someone and handcuff him, like the poor chap had to - that's something we've seen too often in Hollywood movies to be dismissed totally as unfair criticism of the way America often handles this kind of petty crimes, wouldn't you agree?

S's picture

Yeah arne, imagine if we had to uphold the law. That would be bizarre.

Anthony's picture

A basic part of any plausible legal system is that the measures to uphold it should be proportional to the 'crime' in question........................

Sander's picture

Well spoken, try explaining that to S.

He d tell you that smokers should be executed, thats the only way they will leqarn....oh wait...

S's picture

read the bible prverbs26:5; apparently I did it so well that you didn't even realize it.

calvin amari's picture

Notwithstanding the suggestion some may take from your post, I trust you agree that this court decision neither compels the city to engage in "reexamining ill conceived park rules" nor adopt a more sensible enforcement policy. The court could have done so, but in this case it didn't. To the extent that anything about this event would prompt such reconsideration, it would be the publicity that it has engendered. However, the fact that the prosecution persisted after and despite the attention suggests that nothing will change in the future.

There are two side to this story to be sure. Some parents, for example, have publicly supported the law and a NYPD official spokesman has said that "police acted appropriately in issuing criminal summonses." But this became a news item (first locally then nationally and beyond) precisely because a simple recitation of the facts as alleged lead many to believe that what occurred is seriously wrongheaded if not unconstitutional. Criticism by those that hold this view is wholly appropriate. The extent to which one should extrapolate from a single municipal law and set of prosecutions to characterize the city or country at large is debatable, but those who view this as yet one example of growing number of prophylactic rules that often suffer from gross overbreadth have a colorable position that need not be shouted down.

David Simpson's picture

America did not "take out the Nazis". They came into the war long after everyone else was almost exhausted in their battles with Germany and Japan. Their contribution was invaluable but I doubt they could have done it alone.

On their internal front it is obvious to the rest of the world that the battles with the Puritan part of America have barely begun. You need to control those people before you will be taken seriously by much of the world who also wish that you would stop trying to force those "ethics" on us. I for one object to being told that I am immoral because I do not think that children are unable to think for themselves and that they need to know about sex before they get into trouble.

L.Medemblik's picture

I think it all has to do with climbing up the global curve of intolerance towards each other.
At the end of this curve we all fall, like lemmings, together into the ravine of blind stupidity.
Human problem solved.
In hell there are enough chess tables, so cheer up!

Anthony's picture

We chess players live in a very small little world. But occasionally we meet the outside and this is a case in point.

Your story cannot be seen apart from the incredible deterioration of the USofA into a full blown police state since 9/11.

And it's not just drugs. The prison system is privatized and the corporations making a profit from locking people up are lobbying the 'representatives of the people' for long term incarceration for all sorts of 'crimes'.

An important side dish for their stockholders is the fact that these inmates are used as slaves for international corporations. Did you know you actually have prisoners working for nothing as call center employees? But also the 'defense' industry has many of these inmates working on their goodies.

Another horrible statistic is that you have 25% chance of getting raped while in jail.

So the system IS a joke. That is, if you like deep dark humor.

let's not spin this as an assault on chess. The fact that these guys were playing chess is just a coincidence and they might have been playing checkers or just minding their own business in another way.

S's picture

"Your story cannot be seen apart from the incredible deterioration of the USofA into a full blown police state since 9/11"

Unless you think that pedophiles from the park flew into those buildings it can be seen apart from 9/11 and everything after. It might just be a case of overzealous cops, nasty chess players hustling in the park, or a stupid local law. But here everone joins the lynch mob on the USA.

Very sad that Macauley, who brings us this story and many great chess coverage, only gets thumbs down on this chess site because blind anti-americanism.

Anthony's picture

It's nothing to do with 'anti americanism', which is just a silly ploy to get rid of criticism.

I'm critical of China and Zionism too, and also of the EU"s soft fascism. Let alone banker bailouts while none of these criminals have gotten the treatment described in the article.

Nothing would please me more than the Americans getting rid of the TSA, the Patriot Act and their bizarre adventures in the Middle East.

I'm not against americans, I'm against mindless violence against innocent people. And mindless violence is rife in the US 'legal' system.

S's picture

oh, well, I guess that explains the thumbs down for Macauley. No, it doesn't!

Arne Moll's picture

Sure, but how is shoving someone up the wall and handcuffing him the same as upholding the law?

S's picture

Agreed. Chess it is!
They should have handcuffed Carlsen too when he tried to move another piece than the one first touched against Gashimov/Aronian/Kosteniuk/Morozevich/Savchenko.
The rules are rules!!

S's picture

It's pretty obvious that you sometimes have to use force to make sure rules are being followed. This is the prerogative of the police. When someone smokes where he isn't supposed to, and is led away it should be done as safely as possible. Handcuffing him is very good in this respect, especially on a high risk place like an airport. It's not hurting the offender, and as a nice side effect it might teach him once and for all that it is not wise to break the law.

Maybe you should be focusing on the stupidity of the "poor" smoker (he might set of the fire alarm of the airport, he might get you cancer, and he might use his smoke to light his shoe-bomb), instead of the police/security doing their job.

Castro's picture

... but then... there are no children in prison! :-(

Castro's picture

Some people take my joking posts literally, and my serious posts desdainly.
So good, I'm so special! :-)

Daan's picture

The chess players must have been disappointed by the dismissal. Jail seems to be an excellent place to play some chess. At least, if we consider mister Claude Bloodgood.


test's picture

>> he might set of the fire alarm of the airport, he might get you cancer, and he might use his smoke to light his shoe-bomb

Yes, don't forget the terrorists. They teached you well.

Arne Moll's picture

They could have asked him to stop smoking first, or give him a fine and be done with it. Whatever. Let's talk about chess.

Anthony's picture


That's why you know nothing.


It transpires I exaggerated slightly. There are 2.2 million American inmates and 2.3 million in China and Russia combined.

case closed.

ebutaljib's picture

Yeah, average person in a 3rd world has computer and internet. You dummy.

Peter Doggers's picture

Closing this thread. Too much politics. This is a chess site.

Guillaume's picture

I agree. It is quite sad.

Incidentally, one poster thought his opinion was insightful enough to deserve no less than 18 posts. That's nearly one quarter of all the posts in this thread.

Septimus's picture

Reading most of the comments here just makes me sad. It just seems that everybody and their brother is waiting to unload on the US. Seriously...go look in your own closet of skeletons...

As I see it, the problem is with a crap NY law and the stupid Police who have their priorities ass backwards. End of story. Justice was served in the end, was it not?


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