Skateboarding and the (Fake) Broken Windows Theory

Nike’s latest glossy skate video “Debacle” is stitched around several highly-realistic, faked acts of vandalism and assault, but none shocking if you’ve watched a lot of skate videos; I just assumed they were real until the disclaimer appeared at the end. I’ve seen pros show off how they cut chains to break into schools; accidentally break real windows and flee; verbally assault owners and security guards; scream obscenities and throw things in fits of rage; accidentally hit bystanders (hard) with 8 lb. boards or their bodies; and generally behave like drunken delinquents.

Along with fearlessness (healthy to a point), disregard for authority and the care for other peoples’ property is baked into the pop culture, and, although probably a very small percentage of skaters make any trouble, those that do make a real problem for cops trying to keep areas free of gangs of boys who want to emulate the pros in acts and attitude. Any criminologist will tell you the perfect recipe for crime is an unsupervised group of young males predisposed to rule-breaking.

So, unfortunately, incidents like this are common. On camera a cop threatens to brake the arm of a generally compliant but obviously tired kid. This is, of course, after the kid calmly calls the LEO a “fuckin’ dick” (twice) and several minutes after the group filming had apparently damaged city property (“It’s against the law to pry those up — you’re not a city worker”) and ticked off folks enough to call the police.

I love skateboarding and it’s a real shame it’s now apparently criminal in San Francisco (a classic collection of skate spots), but I understand why cops and property owners support these bans. It’s hard to vilify officers who’re asked to bust up active skate spots. The business owner that allows her property to become a regular spot is just waiting for damage, graffiti, reduced foot traffic from weary pedestrians, and potential litigation from parents/bystanders.

MTV star Rob Dyrdek has worked quite a bit to design and promote public skate parks, which are great for the vast majority of respectful skaters, but previews of his upcoming movie Street Dreams look like it will try to convince the public that skaters who insult business owners to their faces, make trouble in motels, and sand skate stoppers off school handrails are unfairly oppressed and just need their own parks. It will only “tell the story” of a minority of skaters and it won’t do the rest any favors.

3 thoughts on “Skateboarding and the (Fake) Broken Windows Theory

  1. Tyler Kizu says:

    It’s hard to take an article like this seriously when one point of view is told in order to establish a negative stereotype of a population of people. What is omitted in this article is just as valid. Skateboarding is a sport that has evolved out of ramps and bowls and things that can be skated legally. The number of skateparks is grossly out of proportion to the number of skateboarders in the US.

    What makes skateboarding beautiful is the incorporation of common street obstacles into an incredibly precise art that takes years if not decades to even come close to mastering. Skateboarders are restricted to a very sorry amount of skateparks located scarcely through out a city or community. By keeping skateboarders off anything else takes the art and creativity away from the sport and also greatly handicaps a number of kids who don’t have access to a skatepark.

    I have heard numerous stories about kids skateboarding who otherwise would have been drawn into gang activity. Crime is often spawned out of poor social settings and boredom; skateboarding is satisfies boredom and brings a group of people together. I’m not saying that crime doesn’t exist within the skateboarding community, but if you realize that there are millions of skateboarders, you would also understand that as with any large community, there will be crime. There are basketball players who rob people, football players who spray graffiti, and baseball players who do drugs, but to classify a whole group by the actions of a few is to unjustly demean an entire population.

    I can only hope people in this world aren’t too ignorant to blindly accept what a random “writer” may say in some poorly researched, one-sided article.

  2. says:

    Tyler, the post was one-sided because I was trying to give the perspective of voters/business owners who ban skating (while trying to gel some of what I’ve been reading lately on crime). Yes, it’s an awesome, creative sport that keeps a lot of kids out of trouble (I’ve done it on and off since 86 and I still watch everything Thrasher, Berrics, Crailtap, etc. puts on the web). I tried not to “classify a whole group by the actions of a few”:

    a very small percentage of skaters make any trouble … the vast majority of respectful skaters … It will only “tell the story” of a minority of skaters

    …but unfortunately for us the jerks are always going to be the most visible and their B.S. always seems to make it into videos, making even more kids see temper tantrums and verbal assaults on strangers as routine parts of skateboarding. After the early Blind videos every kid wanted an excuse to focus their board… My intention wasn’t to “establish a negative stereotype” but Street Dreams I fear will do exactly that.

    I completely agree about the lack of parks and how skaters are under-served by their numbers. When I was skating the most there were none within 100 miles of me (besides a few hours/wk at a roller rink with some crappy ramps pulled out).

    To be fair I should probably write a complimentary post from the perspective of skaters who do try to stay out of peoples’ way and how difficult that makes it to find good spots.

  3. Tyler Kizu says:

    I understand (now) that you were trying to write an article that attempted to show the negativity of the stereotypes of skateboarding, how they are embellished by the public and emulated by kids in the skateboarding community. I just believe that, as a skateboarder, you could have given another perspective, like that of the minority of skateboarders who are honestly abused by the public.

    For example, my friend and I were skateboarding on the street next to a local mall. The mall security guard came out and told us to leave. When we asked him whether or not we were actually ON mall property, he told we weren’t but it was close enough for him to have authority over whether or not we can skate, so he threatened to call the police. When we ignored his demands, he came back and tried to take our names and addresses and other things of the sort. Of course, we weren’t about to allow ourselves to be so obviously abused by some guy wearing a uniform with some pepper spray, so we argued for a while. Eventually, he simply parked his car directly in the middle of the street and refused to move until we left. Events like this occur at least once a week to us and probably much more often to other people.

    As far as my knowledge goes, we weren’t breaking any laws (especially not one that could be enforced by some random security guard), so is it fair to be subject to such abuse knowing that, in totality, all that is given attention to are the faults of skateboarders and not the faults of other citizens and “authoritative” figures in our society? I just feel the need for articles to assume THAT point of view every so often or at least mention it, but that happens not nearly enough. And so if by commenting on this article I’m able to express that point of view, I’ll take the opportunity, no matter what your intentions were because I felt that the article was not balanced enough to be of any good, for it will do nothing other than confirm the ideas of those who don’t know any better or are already prejudiced against the skateboarding community).

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