Keep Hoops Alive!

In the name of protecting public safety and fighting the neighborhood crime , there's a movement to take down the hoops from public playgrounds. Does "killing hoops" really kills the crime in the hood?

A pick-up game starts spontaneously. There are few friends or random ballers, and all they need is a hoop and a ball to start a pick-up game. There aren't any refs, and the calls are all on the players. Pick-up games often get a little rough, sometimes unfair, and occasionally annoying depending on who you play with. The rules of pick-up games are different, and they depend on where the game is played. Streetball as informal basketball is played in urban areas such especially at public park basketball playgrounds. There are pretty competitive summer leagues and streetball tournaments in some cities with a serious competitive basketball of exceptional quality. New York City is the cradle of streetball culture. If there is one significant trademark that makes New York's summers unique, that is streetball.

Some of New York City's legendary courts, such as the West Fourth Street Courts, AKA as "The Cage," have been home for legendary NBA players including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kyrie Irving. Streetball basketball is also popular in Philadelphia.

Aside from the stardom, outdoor basketball courts, unfortunately, have been the crime scenes of so many shootings, most of which took a staggering death toll. Trying to fight the local violent scenes, some communities often opted for the removal of basketball hoops. This became an easy and popular way to fight what is perceived as a basketball court's criminal element. As usual easy solutions for complex problems are useless and often stupid. In this case, this kind of approach throw a concerning smudge to streetball basketball as a crime generator. First of all, there's no statistical evidence that removing the rims impacted crime in the neighborhoods or that keeping the hoops up prevents it. Second, it is true that many shootings at basketball courts never had any relation with the game of basketball or dispute that occurred during the game.

Removing hoops from the neighborhood's parks and playgrounds always sparks mixed emotions. During the past ten years, many cities took down hoops from public parks to fight crime. Concerns about drug dealing, gangs, and violent crime were the driver for taking the hoops down in many public parks in Chicago. Residents and officials in Chicago believed that taking down the hoops would help to fight crime. They observed basketball courts where fights broke out and thought that gang members are hanging around the courts, pretending to wait for the next game while they actually recruit younger gang members or deal drugs. But is bringing down the hoops the right kind of action? Or is it just the easy way to say that officials are doing something

How about a closer look?

In the Chicago area in the summer of 2011, there was a widespread action of taking down the hoops to fight violent crime. But there is some data available to illustrate that there was no impact. There are some stats available for this period on this link. From June through the end of August 2011, there was only one fewer incident than the number reported for summer 2010. A significant decrease in violent crime was noted between 2009 and 2010. During that period, the rims were up the entire time! One person was murdered in the summer of 2011—the same as 2010, but no one was killed there in 2009. There was no significant change considering the total crime rate, including thefts, public disturbances, and other crimes. As a matter of fact, while hoops were down, several crimes such as narcotics violations and assaults actually increased.

The year before, when youngsters could play pick-up games, drug-related crimes and violent physical assaults were down. The conclusion is that if there's a connection between basketball hoops and neighborhood crime, the data don't show it. A local police representative said: "The calls we get for that park are very minimal... Personally, I'm in favor of giving young people something to do."

“As one of the most frequently used amenities in parks, outdoor basketball courts encourage healthy lifestyles, deter crime and offer an alternative for our at-risk youth and young adults,” said Kelly Huntington, Indianapolis Power & Lights senior vice president and CFO after a $1.1 million public-private partnership to upgrade the hoops in its park system (including a court named after reigning WNBA Finals MVP Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever) was announced.

I get upset with the removal of basketball hoops for two main reasons. As a guy who built up his life philosophy on the basketball principles and considered a basketball court as a shrine, taking down hoops is against my belief. The second reason is that removing hoops illustrates the inability to address the essential issues with the right tools. Removing basketball hoops has a subtle racial component because it targets minorities, especially black people. Local Politicians and Police Departments have found favor in calling for the removal of rims as an easy way to display that they're doing something following the argumentum ad populum fallacy. And that fallacy hides the real issue. The majority of people with racial issues blame basketball courts for attracting violence only because they are afraid of the young men of color they see playing streetball.

This dangerous fallacy and even more dangerous decision to act upon it is illustrated with the statement of Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District: "We receive many more requests to install, upgrade, or replace park equipment than requests to remove it; however, we have removed park equipment at the overwhelming requests of community members and/or aldermen."

Since 2011, several pieces of research have confronted the thesis that hoops removal from public playgrounds decreases the crime rate in neighborhoods.

The role of neighborhood parks as crime generators is the title of research conducted by Elizabeth Groff from Temple University and Eric S. McCord from the University of Louisville. This research examines how crime rates in and around parks compare with those not near such facilities. It breaks down crime rates based on individual amenities in the public parks. The research was conducted in Philadelphia parks in 2008 and appeared in Science Journal in 2011.

It shows that the parks and their nearby environs tracked overall crime rates twice as high as the city. However, they said that wasn't a surprise, given that any area that attracts the public can be a crime magnet. What effect does basketball have on this? According to the Security Journal researchers, parks with basketball courts are associated with lower rates of violent and property crime but higher rates of what they referred to as "disorder" crime. The disorder is often defined as an activity like graffiti, drinking, verbal arguments. These annoyances are not the crime that causes people to lose a life, but they inspire people in a neighborhood to tell their representative to get the hoops taken out.

The second research is more focused on the basketball courts. Basketball Courts, Street Corners and Empty Lots: The Spatial Dimensions of Youth Fear and Vulnerability to Violence was conducted by Ellen Foley, Laurie Ross, and Celeste Arista the Clark University Worcester, MA.

According to the research, neighborhood parks and basketball courts, spaces that are meant for youth recreation, were perceived as some of the most unsafe spaces by the participants. However, the authors suggest "spatial sensitivity" is needed both to disrupt the dynamics that cause young men to turn to gangs and to develop neighborhood-based models that are infused with a deep understanding of the role the built environment plays in youths' vulnerability to gang involvement and violence. Bringing down the hoops doesn't solve the crime problems. It is not basketball courts and young people playing streetball that cause gun violence.

About a month ago, The city of Lakewood had removed the basketball hoops at Madison Park's basketball courts at the police department's request in the wake of recent shootings. The hoops were taken down after a pair of shootings in recent weeks at the park.

In a statement, Mayor Meghan F. George said the basketball courts will be temporarily closed during the ongoing investigation. However, people's reactions took a different tone and said they don't feel like the reason for taking the hoops down was justified. "[We can't be] equating basketball to gun violence because basketball is not equal to gun violence," said Casey Davis with the Lakewood Outdoor Basketball Court Committee.

I may be subjective, but It is evident that the "kill-the-hoops" movement is taking a hoop toll. I think there could be a racial undercut to it. Still, basically, I think it is the result of the notion to take the easier path when dealing with complex community issues such as gang violence and gun shootings and blame the basketball courts for it. It is also expected that many people who live around the parks are always suspicious of large gatherings of young ballers of any race. There are issues with brawls in the park, but taking down the hoops won't make a substantial difference. It is more effective to take real action against the crime and read some science before killing the hoops.

I can also accept that hoops have made the parks a popular place for kids to assemble, which can sometimes cause problems. I don't doubt that removing hoops might be an easy, short-term fix to a safety issue that has just popped up. But I don't know that rolling out the unwelcome mat for basketball really has any more of an effect than stepped-up police patrols or any other ideas. Or that it doesn't create an emptier park that in itself might result in a greater safety risk because of fewer eyes on the street.

So dear local officials, mayors, and police, please do your job and let our hoop. It's not the hoops that kill people. It's people with guns that kill people.

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