By Carla Zanoni
INWOOD — A group of 20 children, parents and residents rallied Saturday in support of the seven chess players who were ticketed by the NYPD for playing chess in Inwood Hill Park this October.
Although the Parks Department initially asked the protesters to leave the playground area where they gathered, workers ultimately installed picnic tables in another area of the park where they said chess play would be allowed.
"They put that table in the wrong place," said a Parks supervisor, referring to the chess tables near the playground where the ticketed men had set up their game.
Earlier this week, the NYPD's top spokesman defended the tickets, saying two of the men had prior arrests and that police were being unfairly persecuted in the community for doing their job.
"We’re here to support the guys," said event organizer Jackie Rodriguez-Jones, 36, who brought one of the players a card and chess pieces as a gift from her and her eight-year-old son Jayson Jones.
"Thank you for teaching my son and I good chess tactics," read the card addressed to the players. "You guys are a positive element in the community."
Two of the ticketed men attended Saturday's protest.
Before park workers added two picnic benches to the 207th Street section of Inwood Hill Park, approximately one block from Emerson Playground, they told the men they could not be in the playground unaccompanied by children of their own.
The rules posted at the entrance of the play area state: "Playground rules prohibit adults except in the company of children."
"I am an adult in the company of children," Inwood resident Richard Herrera said. "What’s the criteria for me to be allowed in the playground?
"I understand the intention of the sign, but there seems to be a disconnect between the Parks Department and the community."
A Parks Enforcement Police officer said he could not respond to the question and asked the group to contact the Parks Legal department for clarification.
Moments later a Parks supervisor announced that picnic tables had been added to another area of the park intended for chess play.
"We support chess in the park and are working to provide facilities and amenities for people to do so, whether they have children or not," wrote Phillip Abramson, a Parks spokesman. "To that end, we placed the additional tables in the park."
Later in the day, Parks officials came to ask other men who were unaccompanied by children to leave the playground tables. A patrol car from the 34th Precincnt patrolled the area earlier, but officers did not ask the men to leave.
"It’s against the law to enforce laws arbitrarily and that’s what seems to be happening here," he said.
The men are due to appear in court by Dec. 28.