By Carla Zanoni
INWOOD â€” A group of seven mild-mannered chess players are due in criminal court next month after police officers from the 34th Precinct issued them summonses for playing their favorite board game in Inwood Hill Park.
The men were ticketed on Oct. 20 for being inside of Emerson Playground, a children’s play area off limits to adults unaccompanied by minors. But the men were in an area furnished with stone chess and backgammon tables â€” separated from the play area by a fence.
“There is a problem in this area with drug dealing, but the police have time to write tickets to people playing chess?” asked Yacahudah Harrison, 48, one of the men who received a summons for “Fail[ing] to comply with signs.”
The men said the police pulled right up to the corner of 207th Street and Seamen Avenue, and came directly to their table. Now they’re due in criminal court on Dec. 28.
Captain Jose Navarro, of the 34th Precinct, told DNAinfo he had reviewed the ticket and stood by his officers’ actions.
“Under my direction, uniformed officers routinely enter the parks to enforce closing times and other regulations; all designed to protect the community,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“The NYPD allows for officers to issue summonses in lieu of effecting an arrest for appropriate offenses.”
But Inwood residents expressed outrage that the NYPD would target the chess players in light of the men’s history as caretakers and teachers for the next generation of Inwood chess players.
“This is a positive thing for our kids to see and do, it’s a positive mental activity for them,” said Regina Christoforatos, 38, whose 6-year-old daughter Zoe has been learning chess in the park.
Joanne Johnson, whose 7-year-old son learned how to play chess from the men at the playground, was moved to write a letter on the matter to the 34th Precinct, the City Council, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Crime is on the rise in the Inwood area according to the news and in addition to what we see and hear about in the neighborhood, is chess really something that should be considered a threat to the neighborhood?” she wrote.
“Couldn’t they just move the tables?” Christoforatos asked.
The Parks Department did not respond to requests for comment.
For now, the chess players continue to play near the park on a makeshift table on top of the stone wall that lines the southwestern entrance to the park.