North Carolina Town Cracking Down on Checkers

In one of the latest examples of America's ongoing war on sidewalk freedom, the police in Mt. Airy, N.C. have started cracking down on out-of-control board game players. Even ex-cops who impersonate beloved characters from old-timey television shows aren't exempt from the rules.

Just ask James Slate, a former Mount Airy policeman and disabled veteran who passes his time playing checkers in front of that place downtown, the ... what's it called? Oh yes, the Snappy Lunch. Thank you. Slate's thing is to play his game while imitating Otis Campbell, the town drunk from The Andy Griffith Show. It's for tourism!

Apparently Mt. Airy's police department doesn't care about how board games stimulate the local economy, though. Recently cops arrested Slate for violating a city ordinance that prohibits sidewalk obstructions and jailed him in a holding cell for 45 minutes. Slate's wife, who doesn't seem to impersonate anyone from television, had to post a $500 cash bond. Now he has to go to court and defend his simple fun.

Slate thinks the charge is "unconstitutional," especially because the Constitution explicitly grants immunity to all TV show character impersonators—even ones who pretend to be people from shows the Founding Fathers didn't like very much. But his case isn't so simple, as the Mt. Airy News' long-form reportage reveals:

Slate said he knew of the need to keep walkways clear of merchandise and similar obstructions, and acknowledged his son receiving warnings about placing items on the sidewalk. But he had been given the impression by city officials that sitting at the small table with two folding chairs and playing checkers was allowable.

"I mean, everyone was on board with this, I thought. That's what really threw me a curve with it," Slate said.

Alas, everyone must follow Mt. Airy's sidewalk ordinance—especially when history's being made. On the occasion of Slate's arrest, city employees were trying to dedicate a rest area to a former mayor:

Slate subsequently was approached by police who advised that the checkerboard setup was in violation and had to be removed. "And he chose not to," [Capt. Richard] Lowe said. The officer explained that Slate apparently thought he would simply be issued a citation, but found himself arrested instead.

This was after Slate had been given numerous chances to comply with the ordinance and avoid being taken into custody, Lowe said. "And I was tired of hearing excuses."

What will become of Mt. Airy's public board game industry? Nobody knows. But people who know Slate say he "appeared depressed" after his arrest. Maybe the good news about Mount Airy's granite industry can cheer him up some.

[Mt. Airy News]