A Kick In The Teeth.

Growing up, we can remember several things that shaped our sense of community while being kids. First, there were the block parties. Every once in a while the neighbors would get together and have a monster bash with all sorts of food and chatter. There was always a wiffle ball game played across many yards because, well, because that is the way it was done. Even when the party had ended, kids still played wiffle ball across the yards. Not a single neighbor said a thing in opposition.

In the fall, football would take to the streets. Kids and even some parents would play touch football in the middle of the streets with such complex plays a “go long” and “do a square-in at the Buick.”

And then there was snowfall. Living on a hill meant that when snow fell, kids would pull out their sleds and come barrelling down the hill and through an intersection. We always tried to have an adult at the intersection to warn cars that were cutting across the hill’s road. It was great at night with the street lights giving a soft glow to the snow. Parents stood around drinking hot chocolate and maybe even other “adult” beverages. Before we could head down the hill, a small army of kids and parents would always ascend on the four or five homes inhabited by the elderly or infirmed to shovel their sidewalks and steps.

Those gatherings in the streets taught us to do things together as a neighborhood and do things for others in that neighborhood.

We can also remember playing kickball at school. Kickball is basically baseball with a ball as big as a soccer ball. Teams across classes were formed. Rankings kept. It was a big deal to end up in first place for the year end “party” of KoolAid and store bought cookies.

Where has the time gone as it seems those memories are so long ago?

A neighborhood in Colorado Springs tried to have that same sense of community.

For nearly four summers now, Ed Snyder and Joe Coleman have organized weekly neighborhood kickball games on North Tejon Street. At around 6 p.m. on Monday afternoons, neighborhood kids from toddlers to teenagers, parents in tow, spill out of their well-manicured, Victorian homes and kick a ball.

It seems that someone complained about the game, and called the police.

Eight (count ’em eight) police officers rolled up to the group of 25 parents and kids playing kickball in the street.

At the end of the first inning, eight CSPD officers, including senior officer Cdr. Tish Olszewski, ordered the crowd of approximately 25 children and parents onto the sidewalk. “We have tried to reasonably come to a conclusion on how to settle this,” said Olszewski. “We’ve given verbal warning after verbal warning. We’ve said, ‘Hey, go the permit route.’ Go through the city and get a permit so you can block the street and play kickball. You guys didn’t do that.”

According to Snyder, the involvement of CSPD started about three weeks ago, after a neighbor complained about the game. After their first visit from CSPD, Snyder and Coleman looked into the process of obtaining a block party permit for their informal weekly game. “We did do that,” Snyder responded to Olszewski. “I did that, personally. Your previous two officers that came out here said they would talk to the permit folks, and they would explain the situation. They sent me an email, and told me the person to call and the number to call. There were three questions we were asking about the block party permit. One, does everybody have to agree, on the block, to this? Two, do we have to renew this weekly for a kickball game? The person got back to me and basically said there’s a 14-day waiting period for this and we’d have to go and get signatures from everybody, every single time we had to do it, so it’s not practical for a kickball game that lasts an hour and a half. Plus you’d have to rent $300 worth of barricades each time, you can’t put up your own barricades. It wasn’t a practical solution.”

Think about this for a moment. You have to get a permit to play in the street that you paid for? In a quiet residential neighborhood? One person who didn’t like the idea of people getting together could kill the entire game? (Hello, Karen.) The neighbors would have to pay have barricades erected to play a game?

None of this makes any sense to us. None.

However, the police then turned up the heat:

Olszewski warned that the consequences for failure to comply with the law could be severe. “We’ve got an organized game here that parents are organizing for the kids to be here,” she said. “Parents are involved in encouraging them to do this. The next step after tickets, it goes to child abuse. We get the District Attorney involved because you’re putting them out there where a car could come by and plow into them. Then it goes to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which is a felony. I don’t think anyone wants to get charged with a felony. We have really tried to work with all of you. We don’t want it to come to this.” (emphasis ours)

It always seems ridiculous to us when police and others like Code Enforcement say “we want to work with you….” but that is a distortion of the ideal.

“Work with” people is to come up with a solution. Demanding permits and threatening people with felonies for playing a game is not “working with” anyone.

Last year, Colorado Springs had “protests” due to the death of George Floyd. For over a week, protestors blocked streets and intersections. Cars could not get through. Protesters literally jumped on cars preventing their passage through the area.

For the protestors, the number of permits they obtained? Zero. The number of people arrested for blocking the streets? Zero.

The situation got so bad that the city instituted a curfew which was not obeyed by the protestors, of course.

Yet here the police are threatening a peaceful neighborhood because of a kickball game between neighbors and families.

The neighbors commented on the number of police showing up at the game and the use of police resources.

The police were less than impressed with that line of reasoning:

Olszewski agreed. “It makes no sense that I have to use my resources for this,” she said. “So stop. Just stop.”

The use of CSPD resources was also questioned by the parents. At least three CSPD vehicles and eight officers for a Monday night kickball game in the Old North End seemed excessive to some. “They have new recruits with them, they’re training,” explained Olszewski. “That’s why it looks excessive, because there’s two of them. I said, ‘We want them to come so they can see how we work with the community.’ We want to work with the community and come to some kind of resolution. I wanted them to see the interaction with the community and working with the neighborhood instead of coming in and going, ‘Alright, everybody’s under arrest, line up over there. We’re issuing everybody tickets.’ That’s not the way to resolve it. For me, I looked at it as a great training opportunity for these new police officers. One of the things they have to learn is community engagement.”

Yeah, because the threat of tickets and felony arrests for child abuse and child endangerment over a kickball game is really the type of “community engagement” you want from the police.

It just seems so over the top to us. We cannot figure out the harm of the neighborhood playing a game in front of their homes. We don’t understand the police going all draconian on the community building and fun activity. It is almost as if the police are saying “we will work with you as long as you bow down and do what we tell you to do.”

Millions – probably hundreds of millions and maybe even billions around this country and the world – of kids played games of some type in streets. People in cars understood. Parents understood. The kids understood. Everyone worked together.

We have to wonder why the police don’t see that.

We have to wonder why the police don’t want neighbors to have a good time together while not harming anyone.

“Say Hey!” Willie Mays playing stick ball in Harlem circa 1954.

Instead of trying to break the game up, the police should join in.

That would be real community engagement.

One Response to “A Kick In The Teeth.”

  1. Hometown says:

    I see two solutions:

    1. Approach city council and have the regulations changed.

    2. Buy all the kids BLM tee shirts and continue to hold the games in the name of social injustice 🙂

    We’ve come a long way since I was a kid, unfortunately not all for the better.