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One Man's Table, Another's Garbage
From World Journal
July 8, 2002

The fifth precinct in Chinatown issued a warning yesterday to some Chinese senior citizens saying that they will confiscate the foldable chairs and tables of those whom they find playing chess in Columbus Park.

James McCarthy, commanding officer of the fifth precinct, said that the police think the chairs and tables that those senior citizens have brought to the park, make it an overly crowded and dirty place. He said the police would not arrest the senior citizens who are playing chess or cards for fun unless they ignore the order. However, some senior citizens said that the police are trying to keep them away from the park since they would not be able to play cards or chess without tables or chairs.

McCarthy says that some residents have filed complaints about the Chinese senior citizens because their excessive gathers and the necessary tables and chairs have made Columbus Park an unbearable place. In the complaint, residents allege that some people create tables and chairs by using planks and plastic buckets, and that these extra tables and chairs have crowded the park, making it difficult for people to walk.

According to McCarthy, the worst aspect of this behavior is that the tables and chairs are locked in a corner of the park after dawn, consequently making them seem like a pile of garbage in the park and making the park too dirty for other people to use. He added that only those chairs and tables which pose a threat to the environment and hygiene of the park, will be confiscated and destroyed.

Located between Mulberry Street and Bayard Street, Columbus Park has always been a main hangout place for Chinese senior citizens, with hundreds of them coming into the park to play chess and cards. Often the games spill over into the pedestrian paths because there are too many senior citizens, middle-aged chess players, and spectators.

The material they use to create chairs and tables in the park varies from empty commercial use MSG containers, to soy sauce bottles, and to wooden boards. Some senior citizens believe the police are using this as excuse to exclude them from the park. Mr. Chen, a long time card player in Columbus Park, said that the few tables and chairs in the park cannot meet the needs of so many senior citizens. He does not care about the police warning since the chairs and tables are nothing more than empty buckets and wooden boards.

The fifth precinct has repeatedly taken action against the senior citizens playing chess or cards in the park, including arrests of those involved in card-playing on the charges of gambling. The biggest arrest came in 1999 when police cornered all card-playing parties and took them to a police bus for questioning after handcuffing them. The senior citizens arrested spoke to a judge in the Manhattan Criminal Court and some were released without any charges, while some received small fines as warnings.

Translated from Chinese by Larry Tung.

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