Nanny State

People, Justice, Common Sense Prevail in Capitol Hill Sledding

Despite efforts by police to crack down on fun, much sledding happened in D.C. on Thursday.

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Merrymaking insurgents struck a major victory in the War On Fun Thursday, sledding to their hearts' content on the Capitol Hill West Lawn and forcing the police into a retreat.

Cops kicked off sledders two weeks ago, and ahead of Thursday's snow, Capitol Police Board chairman Frank Larkin said he would not temporarily lift the Capitol's sledding ban. This prompted outrage from politicians and the Capitol Hill community, and I set out this morning determined to join my fellow citizens in protest.

I began the day sledding—or at least attempting to—in my makeshift "sled" (i.e., a recycle bin). Not a cop or other sledder was in sight. This whole civil disobedience thing was seeming pretty disappointing, to be honest.

I was eventually joined by two other families, neither of whom was aware of the ban.

After 15 minutes of sledding, three Capitol Police officers appeared at the bottom of the slope, begrudgingly approaching the criminals they would have to accost. The officers jokingly asked to play rock paper scissors to determine who would have to be "the bad guy." 

"We don't want anyone crashing into a tree, busting their head open," said one officer before brandishing the following flyer:

I informed the officer I didn't actually have a sled—as specifically noted in the ordinance—and was thus not breaking the law. This complaint didn't seem to get much traction.

"If these cameras weren't here, I'd go down with you," quipped one officer after telling us we had to go—but not before agreeing to snap a photo for one of the offending families.

While we spineless morning sledders dutifully adhered to our police masters, though, the crowd that arrived later in the afternoon had no such intentions.

"All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable," wrote Henry David Thoreau in his 1849 essay "Civil Disobedience." By 1 p.m., dozens of sledders, perhaps motivated by the same same sense of distrust of authority as Thoreau, had taken to the hill to exercise their rights. The "sled-in," organized on Facebook, again drew the Capitol Police.

When a cop approached the crowd to inform them of the ordinance, sledder Tim Krepp—surrounded by a swarm of media—told the officer he appreciated his concern but would ignore the rule and continue sledding with his kids.

This seemed to be enough to deter the officer, who retreated back down the hill.

"It's just a bunch of neighbors showing up to go sledding," Krepp said. "This isn't Rosa Parks here. This isn't a great blow for civil rights. We're just trying to use our neighborhood asset as a neighborhood asset as well as a federal asset."

Cate MacGregor, age 8, was not to be fazed by the law, either: "This is my first time on this hill, but I'm really enjoying it," she said. 

Asked if she thought the police wer right to kick people off, she said, "No, because this is a public space. It's kind of hard, because there aren't that many hills on Capitol Hill. This is a city, so it's not that easy to find a really really really good hill that's really near."

By this point, the 40 or so sledders were outnumbered by roughly 60 reporters, photographers, and cameramen. The police were nowhere in sight.

"It's not often we get snow here in Washington, D.C. It's just nice to get the sled out, enjoy the elements, and let the kids go sledding," said D.C. resident Jason Petty, who came armed with a sign reading, "The public and our kids love to sled. Please let us! Thanks!"

As far as I could tell, nobody was arrested or fined. It was only later that I learned, via a tweet from D.C. representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, that the police had agreed not to enforce the sledding ban.

"I know [the ordinance] was made by people inside their offices," Petty said. "But there's no terrorism here, there's no trouble. It's just kids sledding. We'll keep the lawn in good shape, I promise."

Want to learn more about silly sledding bans? Check out Reason TV's January nanny of the month, below.