In broad daylight, a new breed of criminals shamelessly breaks the law right by Dyker Beach Park, Brooklyn, on a patch of land between the Belt Parkway and the waterfront. They traffic in nothing but beauty and whimsy. The wind is their sole accessory, helping them loft brightly colored contraptions, with fluttering tails, high into the sky. They are, in short, kite fliers, and this small strip of land is their regional capital. Many have been coming here for decades.
Recently, however, the Parks and Police Departments decided that their leisure-time activity constitutes a public-safety threat. Last month, park authorities posted no kite flying signs all around the perimeter of this ideally windy field – pretty blue-and-white kites snared inside red slashed circles. And, according to the fliers, police began threatening to confiscate kites and warning their owners about the possibility of fines and jail time. “The police tell everybody on the field to take the kites down and we get kids who are crying,” says Tommy Brunning, a 411 operator who travels an hour from Queens to fly here.
The problem, according to the New York City Highway Patrol, is that the sight of all those flying objects – as many as two dozen at a time on a pleasant day – slows down traffic on the Belt Parkway. “Every time you come off the bridge,” says one patrolman, “there’s a traffic jam because of these guys causing people to slow down to look.”
In addition, says Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, kites occasionally fall into the road. “We are told by the police that there have been serious accidents as a result of this,” he reports. “We like kite flying, but you can’t do it in a place that causes danger to others.”
But the die-hard enthusiasts are telling the city to go fly a you-know-what. Five hundred people have signed a petition to designate the area a special kite-flying zone. And the most radical are simply tearing down the signs. “It looks really nice sitting on my fish tank,” says Robert Perez, a cabbie who brings his sons, Max and Tommy, ages 9 and 8, along almost every weekend. Marty West, a sanitation supervisor who’s been flying kites at Dyker Beach for 26 years, recalls, “In that time, I’ve seen two accidents caused by someone stopping to look. And I’ve never seen a kite hit a car.”
Despite all the warnings, no tickets have yet been issued for kite flying. “None of the cops wants to be the first one to do it,” says Tom Tsamisis, a flier who also sells kites – illegally, according to the city’s new rules – at the park. And on recent weekends, without a cop or a traffic jam in sight, kites by the dozen have continued to fly high, in a gentle display of civil disobedience. “It’s just ironic,” says Brunning. “There’s a statue of Ben Franklin right across the street from the mayor’s office and he’s the most famous kite flier of all time.”