By Carla Zanoni
INWOOD — Parents plan to take their children to Inwood Hill Park this weekend to play chess in a show of support for the seven men who were ticketed for playing the board game in a restricted area of the park last month.
News of the tickets and the chess players' upcoming court date has created an uproar in the community, with some residents defending the NYPD's actions and others expressing outrage.
Inwood mom Jackie Rodriguez-Jones, 36, said she was incensed over the situation and planned to do what she could to support the players.
"This is about people. People who did nothing wrong. People that the community sees and passes by them. Not perfect people but people who need to know their community is aware and concerned for them," Rodriguez-Jones wrote on her Facebook page.
The NYPD's top spokesman defended the tickets on Thursday, saying two of the men had prior arrests and that police were being unfairly persecuted in the community for doing their job.
"Police acted appropriately in issuing criminal summonses last month to men in a section of Inwood Hill Park restricted to children with their parents or other minders," NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne wrote in an e-mail to DNAinfo Thursday.
Yacahudah "Y.A." Harrison, one of the men ticketed, said the prior history of the men was "irrelevant" and had nothing to do with the ticketing.
"We were playing a game of chess," he said. "We are good, upstanding citizens who would never harm anyone."
The issue has been battled out on blogs and parenting e-mail lists all week.
"Why are we condoning grown men hanging out playing games during the day? Oh, because it is a respectable, intellectual game like chess. I see. Why are these men not gainfully employed? Some could be retired, maybe some work at night, or maybe they're ex convicts. Or worse, sex offenders," wrote one parent on an Upper Manhattan parenting listserv.
Zaida Grunes, a mother of twins whose 17-year-old son learned to play chess in Inwood Hill Park from men like those ticketed, posted a rebuttal on her site, Manhattan’s Peak, Thursday afternoon.
"When my toddler twins are old enough, I will be sending them to Inwood Hill Park, alone, and hope that there is a caring, attentive individual sitting at a chess table, willing to give my kids their time and patience to teach them not only a game, but a skill," she wrote.