2002-09-07 / Letters

Fight The Tickets

Fight The Tickets

Captain Charles Talamo’s letter to the Wave concerning the 100 Precinct’s recent crackdown is singularly unresponsive to the legitimate criticisms recently raised by many residents of Rockaway. No reasonable citizen takes issue with the police enforcement of Parks Authority rules that punish littering, excessive noise, vandalism, and other activities that cause harm to people or property other than the person engaged in the behavior. It is instead, obviously, the newly-enforced rules against being in the ocean or on the beach outside of a limited range of hours that have predictably been overwhelmingly denounced by the citizens of Rockaway, some of whom have, as other interlocutors have pointed out, chosen to live on this peninsula precisely because these natural resources are nearby. Strictly enforcing rules against such activities, which affect nobody but the swimmer/surfer/beachwalker, casts the government in the entirely inappropriate, condescending, and patronizing role of nanny. Free, sentient, adult citizens of the United States are not helpless infants, to be deprived of the right to accept reasonable risks to their safety in the course of daily living. The government does not always know best, and it is even conceivable that those who disobey unjust and repressive laws are not "ignorant", no matter what the Rosalind Velazquezes of the world might think (one can envision Ms. Velazquez, had she been a German Jew in 1942, camping overnight to make sure to get a good place in line at Dachau), but are instead engaged in a form of civil disobedience, one of the finest traditions of American freedom. As Martin Luther King said in 1963, "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

The fact that non-swimmers continue to ignore warnings, enter the water outside of the staffed lifeguard hours, and drown does not alter this argument one whit: the many who can swim should not be punished for the poor judgment of the few who can’t. If the city is being sued by the estates of people who drowned because they (or their guardians) ignored clearly posted warnings and couldn’t swim, the government’s proper response, in a free society such as this, is to vigorously contest such ridiculous lawsuits, rather than to deprive innocent swimmers of the right to enjoy the benefits of living in Rockaway. That the drownings are even the impetus for the recent shift in law enforcement priorities is only my supposition – it must be noted (and is in fact quite telling) that Captain Talamo, while noting the "weak rationalizations" of those who oppose the crackdown, fails utterly to offer any justification for the new enforcement of the ocean hours rule that has sparked so much controversy in Rockaway.

It must be noted, also, that, leaving aside the satisfaction of the presumably unemployed "beach bums" with the 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ocean access hours, these time constraints are wholly inadequate for people who have full-time jobs in the city. Are those of us who work long hours outside of Rockaway really being unreasonable when we want to surf before work or come home on a hot August evening and take a swim in the ocean to cool off? Should this really be a crime?

The problem is apparent to all but the misguided; the question is what is to be done about it. This war can and will be fought with several weapons, including publicity, electoral politics, and democratic action. The immediate battlefront should be in the courts. As a new resident of Rockaway and a licensed New York attorney, I can tell you from personal experience that the single best way to fight an unjust system like this is in the courts. The police and the government want nothing more than for you to plead guilty to your summons, pay the fine quietly, and go away. This will only spur Captain Talamo on to greater acts of zeal. Every single summons should be challenged in court, and an appeal should be taken if the city wins the first round. I believe that there are several good defenses to a summons issued for a violation of Park Rules 1-03(a)(1) (the rule against being on the beach after 10 p.m.) and/or 1-03(c)(2) (the rule against disregarding a park sign), and would be happy to advise anybody who is willing to fight such a citation in court, completely free of charge. I can’t go to court with you, but I can examine the summons and investigate the facts of the case and give you some ideas as to how to go about defending yourself. If you received such a summons, feel free to leave me a voice mail at 917-482-8318.

MARK WONTOREK


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