Friday, May 22, 2009

Kevin Graver: Interview with a Scapegoat

I sat down with Kevin a few days ago to talk about his recent arrest and the sketchy details surrounding it, but I got a lot more out of the interview than just what is going on with his legal woes. Take some time to read what he has to say, and you just might learn a thing or two about how to help build a strong skateboarding community.
-Norm


So how did this get started? Going from what I saw on the news, you got arrested for doing this thing at the monument…

Yeah, I was in Riverside when everything happened. By myself, skating down the sidewalk, and this cop was doing some off duty… homework, extra credit work. Just rolled up and asked me for my info, and told me he wanted to snoop around the neighborhood, and look for people doing bad stuff, and snitch on them. He got my information, and came back to the spot an hour later, and that was it. I went to the slammer.

Right. So did he at all mention to you the stuff that went down at the memorial?

No. Not at all.

So how do you think that Channel 4 interpreted your arrest as you getting caught skating there (at the veterans memorial)?

Well they definitely didn’t do any research into what actually happened, I guess they just looked at the police reports that they got off the Internet. Seems like they write whatever they want about it. Whatever story they are trying to write, that’s what they present.

Do you feel like there is any connection between what happened to you and the story that was posted… was the story on News 4 Jax just totally fabricated? That’s what it seems like.

I mean the story they told—they didn’t even tell the story of what happened. They interviewed some poor guy that lost his son in a war, I had nothing to do with that story—I feel like they used that to get people’s interest. You know, honestly, you could make an article about anything and use that same kind of tactic, so it’s kind of a cheap shot towards me, I feel.

I feel like in the article, it’s like—the specific tag line they used was something like: “Skateboarder arrested on felony charges for skateboarding at veteran’s monument”. And that really doesn’t have anything to do with what happened to you. So I guess what I’m asking is how would someone come up with that correlation? Because you are a skateboarder?

No. 3 months prior to that, some people got cited for skateboarding there. I never got cited, but I guess they knew I was there, for other reasons. I think a few days after that, everyone got in trouble for it, and they put warrants out. The judge, and the state attorney, they just wrote us up.

So I’ve read, and I’ve heard from you, that this is a felony charge, which is pretty heavy.

Yeah, It’s real heavy. They aren’t sure about it right now… how do I say this? I shouldn’t talk about this. I don’t really want to talk about the details of it right now. They are working on that right now.

Ok. But I think it should be noted that the whole think about announcing it on the news was pretty underhanded, and everyone can recognize that. That’s one thing that really sticks out to me. That they take a sad story about a guy that is upset about a monument, a memorial-

-And put him against me?

Yeah. And then pull you into it out of nowhere.

Right. I mean obviously, there are a thousand kids who have skated this spot throughout the past few years. It’s an amazing spot. It’s known. People come here from out of town. I have friends that are like, you know “the monument spot is so ill.” I skated there one time. And this is what’s happening. It’s a lot to deal with.

I think there is a lot people don’t really think about when skating there.

Don’t go there!

Yeah. I think some people don’t realize the sensitivity people have about it.

Yeah, people are very sensitive about it, so I’ve found. They might look at it like a rock that someone sculpted into some benches to sit on, whereas we look at it as a tool to express ourselves. Who can think of the best way to utilize this piece of rock? In someone else's reality that piece of rock is a shrine to somebody, a place of respect. It’s kind of how you are brought up, how you look at things. I think that has a lot to do with it.

Do you think now this is a reminder that skateboarders are very much in the crosshairs?

Yeah, definitely. Downtown is hot right now. They are definitely looking for us.
I don’t want to make it this whole Us vs. Them thing, but they are onto us, they see us downtown. They’ll get you.


Kickflip to Fakie on the BusStop Goes to Tampa Trip. Photo: David Morico

Do you think would be a good time to bring up to the public that we need more public skateparks that are legitimate ‘street spots’?

Yeah. Definitely. You know, there is nothing downtown, nothing in the surrounding areas. Nothing in San Marco. Nothing in Riverside. Nothing in Springfield. I mean we need something. I mean it’s common sense, you know. There are like 50 parks or something in Riverside? Not one of them has anything to do with skateboarding. I mean it’s great to have basketball courts, baseball fields, tennis… all that. But it’s almost 2010. We need to get with the times. Make some place for kids to go, so they don’t have to be out in the streets running from cops. You know, being out there where crackheads hang out.

Right. I know in Riverside, it seems like I see more kids that are interested in skateboarding than there are in basketball, baseball, and all these things.

Definitely.

A lot of these kids come here because of the creativity aspect of Riverside, there are so many creative people in this part of town.

Right. And those people come out here for that. I see them, and I see their kids, riding bikes, pushing around, and they have nowhere really to go. I mean we need somewhere to go. To keep people from going where they are gonna get chased by some cops.

There is literally no good place to go unless you have a car-

Well there is, but you are going to get in trouble, that’s the thing.

I mean I grew up skating there. I’ve been skating downtown for something like 15 years, I’d say. I know those streets. There’s times where you can skate those spots, you know, for like a year and a half without getting hassled, and then all of the sudden, someone gets pissed. The next thing you know, you are hearing all these stories about your friends getting arrested. “Oh I got a ticket at Hemming. I got a ticket at the federal building. I got a ticket at the firehouse.” Now everyone is dealing with it again, it’s definitely hot again.

Do you think this has to do with police officers and law enforcement in general, they get a wild hair, and then all of the sudden it’s the new hot thing to do-arrest skateboarders?

Well just think if you are a police officer. Think: If you were a cop. Would you want to go deal with these guys with guns, that are selling drugs—that are murdering each other, or do you want to go arrest some skinny kids with skateboards that are just cruising around downtown?

So it’s like the easy option.

That’s what I would say.

It’s an easy source of revenue for the city.

Right. They see that, they get bonuses or something, they don’t have to risk their life, dealing a high school kid--or a college kid… or a grown-ass man!

I think it’s a good time for me to plug these fund raisers we have got going on, to raise some money for parks, to help the people dealing with this issue, paying for legal costs… We are going to be slinging T-shirts, we are going to be doing a game of S.K.A.T.E. at the Z.B.B.C. complex on the 31st.

That’s in Springfield.

That’s in Springfield.

I want people to know that I added a PayPal button to the website. So if you want to donate to a cause, you can send it anonymously, and just leave a note saying “this is for Kevin Graver”, or this is for Legal Fees for our friends getting arrested, whatever, I’ll get it to them. Or for skateparks, what have you.

Awesome. And we could sling shirts off of the site.

I’m working on some stuff for BusStop specifically, but anything for the causes that we’ve mentioned would be good too…


We’re making an ‘Ante Up’ shirt, for the games that we are doing. I think we are going to start a little organization, like a not for profit thing.

Any videos?

We've been working on a video with Chris Jolly, It's going to be awesome. But more like just organizing events, doing things like that. Throwing parties. Basically just getting people together. Helping people realize just how many of us there are in this community. Just skateboarders. I think if we get together and discuss what’s going on, we could make some serious moves. I mean, all you have to do is get people together to talk. I mean the Monument park is there (Ed Austin), Atlantic Beach park is there--Atlantic Beach actually took like 12 years to get done… just talking to city people, bitching and complaining, finally someone made some moves, and now there is that monstrosity (laughs).

Better than nothing, right?

Oh, it’s great, for what it is… but we need something mellow. I’d like to have something here with some trees, some benches, something that doesn’t necessarily need to look like a skatepark. Something that’s not going to stick out and be an eyesore, I’d rather go to something that worked with the flow of the land. We could even have chess tables, places for people to site down and have a picnic out there or something, you know. Just something where we’re not going to get arrested, and need lawyers, and spend nights in jail. Things of that nature.

I’ve heard about a project called the Springfield skate plaza, have you heard about that?

Yes.

I just talked to the person behind it about a month or two ago. Says he’s still behind it. Do you think there is still steam in that project?

I hope it works. They are cool. Not sure what is taking so long. They should definitely do it though. I’d like to help those guys any way I can to get the ball rolling.

Do you think there is enough community behind it?

I think the community is behind it. I just don’t think there is enough upper level support--the people that have the pen and the paperwork to sign to make it happen. Those people aren’t taking it seriously enough.

Do you think there could be something in the works like what happened at Burnside, or the Foundation in Atlanta, or something like that, where you could just renegade- make a spot?

That’s up to the people. I think everyone should just go out there and make renegade spots. To build the scene, just let it be known that we are out here, but—watch your back. It does raise awareness, and it does make places to skate, but at the same time, it pisses people off. Which I guess can be a good thing too.

Motivate people to get something done.

I think to get people to build spots all around town, that’s awesome.

Well there are so many empty spaces. Abandoned lots. Stuff just not being used. Stuff that just looks so bad.

Yeah, I can think of ten of them right now, that just sit there. And they are eyesores. Just places that sit there, with weeds growing over old asphalt. If someone could just loan us that spot. Give us a year, we’ll build a spot on our own. Even build a half pipe or something, you know? Let it be known that we have this space. Hopefully they will read this interview on the website!

Is there anything specifically that you want to talk about regarding the news, the arrests going on, anything about that?

I’d like to wait. I don’t want to jeopardize my freedom. Just come out to the S.K.A.T.E. game and just show your face. Make your presence known. Then everyone can talk, we can make some moves. I think it’ll be another really good step if people show up. A lot of people showed up for the last one, it was great.

How many people was it?

It was like 26 people that actually skated the contest. For those 26 people, there were a carload of people with them, so we had a really good turnout.
It seemed like Memorial Park was full of skateboarders.

For sure. And then everyone cruised down the street—I thought that was pretty cool how everyone cruised down to the next park.

Yeah, it went seamlessly, it seems like. We went from on park to the other.

So even though the cops broke up the first spot, we just picked up and moved to the next spot, and it worked pretty well regardless.

Yeah. And for the next spot, we have a place where we are allowed to do it. Those guys at the Z.B.B.C. are fully into it. They are awesome. We can do skate games there when we want, we can have parties, we can make moves. We can meet there and talk, get things going. Those guys are all about that, they are all about community awareness. Because that’s what we are. We are a community. There are a lot of young people out here that are doing positive things for the community.

How did you go about hooking up with those guys?

I’ve known Ian for years, just from being downtown and skating…

Ian Ranne?

Yeah, and throughout that time, he started doing his own thing through hip-hop hell, and opening up businesses throughout town. He has Shantytown, he pretty much runs the complex there… Just from being part of the scene, being around, you just meet people.

So what is the date of the contest again?

It’s the 31st of May. At 4:20 p.m. (laughs). It’s a B.Y.O.B. event. But it’s definitely a family friendly thing. Families came out for the last one. We had a few dads skating in the game.

I think I’ll sign up for this one. Just for kicks.

What else? We’ll have T-shirts for the cause. Um… If you see the cops, run.

What? Do you think that’s what will happen at the event?

No! I meant in general! (laughs)

That was kind of a joke, on the record. Thanks Norm.

Thank you, Kevin.