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Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: June 26, 2006
Byline: David Gambacorta


No LOVE lost between skateboarders, cops

Mom says she was thrown in fracas

The first day of summer is supposed to belong to skateboarders. At least, that's what the skateboarders say.

June 21 — known by skaters worldwide for the past three years as Go Skateboarding Day — is the official holiday of the skateboarding universe, a day for devotees to celebrate their misunderstood sport by doing heel flips in the streets.

More than a thousand skateboarders celebrated GSD in Philadelphia last year by peacefully romping through their forbidden paradise, LOVE Park.

The turnout was smaller this year than last, but hundreds still rolled toward the sacred concrete grounds looking for a good time.

But they found no love in LOVE Park. In fact, a scuffle with a police officer ended the day for one small group — including a 49-year-old mom who said the officer grabbed her by the shoulder and "threw her across the park."

Police officials declined to comment on the incident.

The ban on skateboarding in LOVE Park is well-known, well-posted and well-enforced. But the park remains a gathering place for many skaters.

And so it was last Wednesday, when Peter Steinke and his son Markus, 13, left their Harrisburg home about 10 a.m. and embarked on a journey to the City of Brotherly Love.

Steinke said his son had read on the Internet that skateboarding pros were going to gather at LOVE Park at noon and sign autographs.

Visions of skateboard star Tony Hawk doing 360-degree spins in the air danced in Markus' head as the Steinkes drove across the state.

"My son was really excited," said Steinke, 42. "He couldn't wait to see those guys, his idols. He was really happy to be going to the city."

But when they arrived at LOVE Park, at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard, there was no sign of any skateboard superstars. Just "a lot of police and a lot of kids on skateboards," Steinke said.

While Steinke and his son surveyed the scene and took note of the signs forbidding skateboarding in the park, Virginia Harris pulled her car up in front of LOVE Park and let her son, Brent Kravitz, 12, and his buddy, Ryan Magallon, also 12, hop out.

Harris had driven down from Conshohocken after her son read on the Internet that an itinerary listing city spots that were skateboarder-friendly was going to be distributed there at noon.

"I told them to go in the park and find out who was handing out the itineraries while I looked for a parking spot," Harris said. "It took me about 10 minutes to find a spot.

"When I got in the park, my son's friend was crying."

Brent Kravitz said a police officer had "started screaming at us" when his friend Ryan rested his left foot on his skateboard.

"He took my friend's board and gave him a $100 ticket," Kravitz said.

Steinke observed the alleged skateboard snafu. "The kid was in tears. He wasn't riding his board. Everyone knows you're not allowed to ride them," he said.

Harris said she tried to console Ryan by talking to the officer, who said he was from the 9th Police District, located at 21st and Hamilton streets.

When the officer allegedly refused to return the board, Harris told him she would contest the ticket. She took out her camera and asked if she could take a photo of the officer holding the board next to her son's sobbing pal.

"He grabbed my camera, held it above his head and threatened to smash it," Harris said. "He told me to get out of the park or he would arrest me."

A shaggy-haired teenager soon entered the argument by complaining to the officer about another skater who had his board taken, Harris said.

And then, witnesses said, the officer shoved the shaggy-haired teen — and arrested him when the teen attempted to block the officer's hands. The teen was later charged with disorderly conduct.

Harris said she ran over to the officer and told him she was going to report that he had assaulted a teen without provocation.

"Then, he grabbed me by the shoulder and threw me across the park," Harris said. "I'm a 49-year-old woman in business attire and he threw me across the park."

"She didn't lay a hand on the officer. She wasn't a threat to him," said Steinke. "There was no need for any physical contact. There was probably 100 better ways to handle the situation."

Brent reacted the only way a boy his age could: "I yelled at him not to touch my mom that way!"

Several other witnesses came forward and told Harris they witnessed the alleged assault and would testify on her behalf.

Word of the incident traveled across town to SubZero Skateboards, 5th Street near South, where quiet GSD celebrations were being held, said store owner Shane Vonhartleben.

"We heard about the situation," said Vonhartleben. "There's always a dilemma [at LOVE Park]. You never know what you're getting into over there."

Vonhartleben, who's been skating for 22 years, said last Wednesday's alleged fracas symbolized the troubled relationship between the city and the skateboarding community.

Vonhartleben, 30, said he had hoped skateboarders would gain acceptance after the city hosted the popular and lucrative X Games in 2001 and 2002.

Then the city enforced a ban on skateboarding in LOVE Park in 2004 and posted signs that warned of fines up to $300.

The city even turned down a $1 million offer from California-based DC Shoes to return part of the park back to skaters.

"It's a bit much to expect kids to understand why they can't enjoy a good American activity like skateboarding," Vonhartleben said. "I hoped by now that people would realize we're not a threat."

But that message was likely lost on police when LOVE Park was vandalized late last Wednesday. Three benches were thrown into the park's fountain, police said, and though no suspects have been captured, rumors surfaced that irate skateboarders committed the act.

Harris, nursing a bruised shoulder and regret that a day of fun for her son turned out so poorly, filed a formal complaint with the 9th District last Thursday.

"I'd still come back to LOVE Park," said Harris' son, Brent. "I just hope it's better organized next time, because this was a disaster."

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