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Opening Arguments

Layfayette loses its goals

Vistors to Columbian Park in Lafayette complained about the teenagers who congregated at the basketball court there, who spouted profanities that could be heard a long way away and sometimes stopped their basketball game long enough to have a fight. So, simple solution: Park officials removed the basktball hoops.

Tom Rankin, the city’s parks, safety and security director, said removing the goals has reduced loitering and rowdiness to a minimum.

“It’s been like night and day so far,” he said.

But critics — and there are a growing number — say the city overreacted by taking down the basketball goals, a recreational offering that in other parks and other cities has eased youth unrest, not promoted it.

Within days of the goals coming down, instances of graffiti around the park increased, some of them patterned after known gang symbols. Many were directed at police, such as LPDK, or “kill” Lafayette Police Department.

Is the relative calm in the park a solution or an uneasy peace? That is a question some in Lafayette — parks officials, the mayor, police, neighbors and youths — should be asking themselves. As the experience of Indianapolis shows 60 miles away, the answer could have profound ramifications.

This bothers me, too, but not primarily for the reason given by critics. Whether it solves the problem or just eases it temporarily (or moves it to another location) remains to be seen, and officials can adjust their actions accordingly. It's troublesome because it pushishes everyone for the transgressions of the few. It takes away one of the amenities of a public park for everyone who might want to use it, not just for the teens who chose it as a place to act out. This happens more and more these days, and the world is therefore a less pleasant place. Figure out the apporpriate punishment for the guilty parties so you can leave the rest of us alone. You don't get rid of a problem merely by removing one of the places the problem manifests itself.

"Youth unrest." Nice, polite term, huh?