At the corner of St. Philip St. and George St., he was pulled over. A Public Safety officer on a bicycle spotted him riding his skateboard down the street and had stopped him. Without the legal authority to write him a ticket that would send him to court, the Public Safety officer referred him to a city police officer who was already parked on the street.
Senior Stephen Massar was then written a $50 ticket with a court date. Although a senior, Massar had been unaware of the law in Charleston that prohibits skateboarding on city streets and sidewalks until he received his first ticket. Massar said, “I’ve been skating since freshmen year and never got a ticket. I was really pissed off. It’s like a wave going through campus now with skateboarders getting tickets. I even saw (someone on roller blades) get a ticket that day. They were just giving one ticket after another.”
At the time when Massar was pulled over on his skateboard, Public Safety officers were unable to hand out tickets that could send students to court; they could only warn students and send them to the Dean’s Office. However, this has changed since last Spring with an amendment to the Charleston Code of Ordinances. At the moment, Public Safety officers are still handing out only warnings because logistics have not been cleared yet on when court officials can work the additional court dates that Public Safety officers would be adding to their schedule. According to Chief of Police Paul Verrecchia, all the logistics will be figured out by next week.
Verrecchia said that because Public Safety officers could only issue out warnings, many students continually broke the law. However, this could change with the capability of now sending students to court.
For students like Massar, who was initially unaware of the law until he recently received a ticket, this may come as a shock, especially for those who were unaware of the law even prior to the amendment. Massar said, “I don’t think there is any awareness (of the law). I’ve never seen a sign saying ‘No skateboarding.’ The College didn’t warn us at orientation, didn’t send out any e-mails, no warnings even telling us that (Public Safety officers) can now send us to court. I’ve been skating for three years (here) and never knew.”
While students like Massar say many are unaware of the restrictions on skateboarding, Verrecchia said Public Safety has tried to spread the word. He even contrasted Massar’s comments, saying that students are warned about the law at their orientation session. He said, “We have several publications from Public Safety talking about bike and skateboarding laws. They were even told at their orientation session. It’s not like we want to keep (the law) secret. We want students to know and understand (the law).”
One of the reasons why students are unaware of the restriction on skateboarding could be the result of a large number of students already breaking the law. Both bicycles and skateboards serve as a major source of transportation for students to-and-from class. Massar had assumed that skateboarding was legal on city streets because he saw everyone else doing it. He said, “When I decided to skateboard to class, I wasn’t like ‘Let’s go check the laws.’ I had seen everyone else doing it. I’ve even passed (Public Safety officers) before and never got a ticket.”
Whatever the case may be, Verrecchia made it clear that prohibiting skateboarding on city streets and sidewalks is not unique to Charleston. Many urban areas share similar laws. Reasons for such laws often stem from safety concerns that enforcement officials are trying to remedy.
Verrecchia said Public Safety officers only pull over students who are flagrantly violating the law. Such violations include: skateboarding on a one-way street in the opposite direction, blocking traffic by going down the middle of the street or not stopping at a red light.
Massar may have never been pulled over prior to his recent ticket because he was not flagrantly violating the law. The inconsistency in pulling over students might have caused a confusion with students on whether they were being pulled over for going down the wrong-way on a one-way street or even just skateboarding the correct way on the street.
Such inconsistencies in enforcement has not gone unnoticed. SGA President Ross Kressel said he noticed a lack of clarity on skateboarding laws and the inconsistencies in enforcement.
Just last Tuesday, Oct. 4, a resolution was proposed in Senate by Senator Sukhpreet “Vick” Singh and Erich Hellstrom. The resolution, which supported the legalization of skateboarding on streets with a College of Charleston building next to it (excluding King St.), was unanimously passed by Senators.
The students present during the Senate meeting argued that skateboarding should be considered a legitimate form of transportation. Massar also said it should be considered as a means of transportation and that he felt like he was being discriminated against because skateboarding is illegal on city streets. He didn’t understand why bicycles were legal and not skateboards.
Kressel also found the current laws against skateboarders discriminatory. He said, “I support the cause of skateboarders at the College. I believe the current laws are discriminatory toward youth and I hope for swift action from the Charleston City Council.”
Kressel’s hope for action will take place at 5 p.m. this Tuesday, Oct. 11, when Hellstrom, one of the Senators who presented the resolution to SGA, takes a group of skateboarders, bicyclists and bicycle taxis over to City Hall. Hellstrom will then lead the group into the City Council meeting in order to present the resolution.
Kressel said he hopes City Council will take notice that many people feel strongly about changing the law. The Facebook group named “Protest Anti-Skateboarding in Charleston, SC” has already picked up 173 members on the social networking site. The creator of the group wrote on the group’s about section, “Skateboarders are harming NO ONE by their actions. Some will claim they are annoying (but pedestrians think cars and bikes are annoying just as cars and bikes think pedestrians are). Skateboarders, like peds, bikers, and cars, can manage their own risk. It is their life to live. It is not in the place of the city to prevent an injury from skateboarding when that individual wanted to do it!”
Looking back on receiving his ticket, Massar said he remembered asking the officer “Why all of a sudden are you doing this?” The officer then said there had been an increase in injuries. Massar contested this when he asked if the injuries were mainly from skateboarders or from bicyclists. Massar said the officer’s answer was bicyclists. He also said that one of the main reasons why they were ticketing skateboarders was mostly because of community complaints.
Massar said, “Skateboarding is discriminated. It is a means of transportation just like a bike. Kids depend on it to get to class.”