It's December 4, and Wilson has arrived at the courthouse to contest a charge of trespassing on public property. Back in October, police arrested the 27-year-old skate-shop owner for loitering at Barney Allis Plaza, the city's unintentionally skater-friendly park at 12th and Central streets. Wilson was there filming two of his customers skating when security guards called police. He spent that night in jail. The skaters, ages thirteen and sixteen, were allowed to leave.
Now, two months later, Wilson pleads not guilty to the trespassing charge, beginning a "trial" so disorganized that Judge Deborah Neal stops the prosecutor in midsentence to ask what he thinks he's doing. "Are you cross-examining him now?" Neal snaps. "He hasn't had a chance to give his statement yet."
Given that opportunity, Wilson, visibly nervous, asks Neal to consider the plight of skaters in Kansas City. "No matter where you go in the city, you're told to leave," he says. He adds that he's been working with city staffers to build an urban skatepark that would help solve that problem.
That process started more than a year ago, when Mayor Kay Barnes threatened downtown skaters with vigilant enforcement of anti-skating laws ("Barbarians Rule," November 7, 2002). Other city leaders countered her crotchety spiel with promises to build a city skatepark and, in contrast to a poorly designed park in the recesses of the Northland, do it right. An unlikely collection of city staffers and area skaters organized a skatepark task force to get things rolling.
For the first part of the year, things progressed nicely for the group. Councilman Jim Rowland pledged 4th District funds to the project. That allowed the task force to hire SITE Design Group, a respected skatepark firm based in Tempe, Arizona. Last August, after months of weekly meetings, the task force reached a milestone by selecting Gillham Park on 39th Street as the preferred site for the project ("Slab Happy," August 7, 2003).
But homeowners surrounding the park fumed that their opinions had not been sought. An outdoor information meeting held on the hottest day of the summer was contentious from the outset, with dozens of Hyde Park residents blasting the plan and anyone who spoke in its favor -- including Wilson. One man held a tombstone-shaped sign that read "Recall Rowland" ("Hot About Wheels," August 28, 2003). In subsequent meetings, the task force members wondered if they would be better off building in Penn Valley Park instead.
Now, the skatepark project is in limbo, and Wilson, a task force member from the start, faces a charge of trespassing on the very spot where Barnes made her anti-skateboarding speech more than a year ago.
About two dozen people sit around the courtroom, most of them listening to Wilson defend himself while waiting for their own hearings. They hear Wilson argue that he never stepped foot on Barney Allis Plaza, that he'd filmed the skaters from the sidewalk.
"So you brought them to break the law?" asks prosecutor Mike Sagan.
"Yeah, I brought them to break the law," Wilson says. "To skateboard. It's horrible."
A few people in the courtroom laugh, but then Neal finds Wilson guilty and fines him $250. Moments later, Wilson is waiting for the cashier to call his name when a lanky, mustached man lumbers into the room and fixes a stare on him. "How do you appeal?" he asks.
"Well, I'm going to appeal," the mustache announces. "I've got a circuit judge in my pocket."
For the next several minutes, the clerk calls on guilty party after guilty party. Most people go quietly. Then a middle-aged, blond-haired woman storms into the room and demands immediate attention. Turned away, she storms back out hissing about "public servants."
When Wilson's name is called, he asks how to get an appeal and, if possible, a trial by jury.
The cashier smirks. "You had a trial," she says.
"That was a trial?" Wilson says.
"That wasn't a trial!" the mustache shouts from his seat. "That judge is a nasty bitch!"
Headed back out to his Impala, a flustered Wilson listens to the sage advice of yet another person facing misdemeanor charges. The lesson: Next time, lie. Do whatever it takes. Because right or wrong, they're going to put you down. "They just don't want to admit they're wrong," the guy says.
More likely, Wilson will appeal, continue to attend skatepark meetings and keep advocating for a change in city policy. Kansas City law forbids skating on public property, including streets, which makes the need for a centrally located skatepark more urgent.
Back at Barney Allis Plaza, a small sign hangs on a pillar on the northwest corner of the park at the exact site where Mayor Barnes gave her anti-skateboarding speech (and near the spot where police arrested Wilson in October). It can't be seen from the sidewalk, despite what a Bartle Hall security guard testified at Wilson's trial, but it's clearly visible from a step waxed regularly by skaters preparing for a grind. It cites the city's no-skateboarding codes 50-195 and 50-197, though rebellious visitors have altered its "No Skateboarding" message to "Go Skateboarding."