New York City vs. chess players -- case dismissed

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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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