It’s 10 a.m. on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. It’s a beautiful spring day and students travel to classes, eager to learn new things and socialize with friends. The future leaders of America walk up and down the narrow and hilly campus peacefully, the only disturbance an occasional solicitor asking whether the Bible scientifically proves the existence of God. Some students are stressed. School is hard. But at least they can enjoy the fresh air and walk freely. There are no vehicles on this campus. Everything is in its rightful place.
But then the peace is suddenly broken. A figure tears down a sidewalk. Most students see the high-speed Ten Toes ZED 44-inch longboard coming and can dive out of its path. But one innocent young woman is jamming to the new J. Cole album with her headphones on. She can’t hear the screams of those around her, telling her to watch out.
Another victim of campus skateboarders. She was 19 years old.
Some would call this hypothetical an accident. I would call it terrorism.
Campus skateboarders spread terror. Let’s be honest, and call them what they are.
Terrorism is the use of violence or a threat of violence to achieve some political, social or religious objective. This definition is not comprehensive, and it is not accepted by all scholars, but it will suffice for our purposes. Let’s deconstruct this definition together and find out whether these crazed skateboarders on campus are, in fact, terrorists.
Skateboarding on campus is violent, or at least it could easily turn violent. One minute a long-haired, bicep-tattooed, snapback-and-cargo-shorts-wearing STEM major is gliding down the hill in front of the library and the next minute they hit a rock or misjudge a pedestrian’s next step and people get hurt. Nobody is good enough on one of those surfboards on wheels to fly through crowds without incident every time.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t make crystal clear who we’re talking about here. Bicyclists are not terrorists. Neither are Razor scooter riders. Both have brakes and can remain reasonably under control. I’d also put those skateboarders who exclusively do tricks in a different category. They go for style not speed, and they make our student body look way cooler for high schoolers taking tours. We’re talking about longboarders and people on those little baby skateboards who think they own the sidewalks.
If you’ve ever been hit by a skateboarder on campus, this discussion is over and you can check off terrorist here. Without going any further, group them in with Al-Qaeda, The Irish Republican Army, The Shining Path and the alt-right.
If you’ve only been nearly hit by a skateboarder on campus, we need to find out whether this was a serious threat of violence.
One could argue it’s only the bad skateboarders who intend to cause harm. They only hurt people when they fall or make an incorrect kinetic calculation and steer into an innocent citizen. But this ignores the mental game that terrorists play. It’s not just a war of weapons, it’s war of the mind.
In his book “Inside Terrorism,” Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert, wrote, “Terrorism is as much about the threat of violence as the violent act itself and, accordingly, is deliberately conceived to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the actual target of the act among a wider, watching, ‘target’ audience.”
Another expert, John Horgan, agrees. He told CNN in 2016 that terrorism is “pure psychological warfare. They don’t just want to frighten us or get us to overreact, they want to be always in our consciousness so that we believe there’s nothing they won’t do.”
Do you look over your shoulder constantly on campus? Do visions of Landyachtz Bamboo Stratus longboards shattering your tibia haunt you while you sleep? This is what they want.
Terrorism can be just as much psychological as it is physical. Terrorists freak you out and make you scared, and once you’re scared enough you’ll agree to their terms, whether you were a victim of the threat or just an onlooker.
Isn’t this exactly what skateboarders do when they speed through walking paths, weaving in and out of innocent students, while others look on in horror? Eventually, they hope, their victims will say “enough is enough, how can we make this stop?”
What, then, are the skateboarders’ terms? What do they want to gain from this chaos?
If they truly are terrorists, by definition, they must be striving toward some political, social, or religious goal.
Without ever having spoken with one, it’s hard to say what the skateboarders’ pursuits might be. They are an aloof group, and they never slow down for long enough to start up a conversation. They put on an aura of such chillness, it seems they can’t mean any harm. That is until you take a 15 mile-per-hour piece of wood and plastic straight to the ankle.
We know from history that skateboarders want to be cool, they want to be noticed, and they want to travel between two places in a relatively quick fashion. What do they need on our campus to achieve all of these things?
It’s simple: our sidewalks.
This is their goal. Riding on the sidewalk gets them attention like salmon swimming upstream, and they think it makes them look cool. They feel they have some claim to the sidewalks for their skating machines, and they’re trying to make us so afraid that we will cede the sidewalks to them.
One way to legitimize terrorists is to call them “freedom fighters.” You might think skateboarders are simply protesting their right to use the sidewalks. But, I say it’s not protest but coercion by force. It’s not their freedom that they fight for but our freedom that they try to take away. They want the sidewalks for themselves. If they had it their way everyone would cruise on Atom Drop Deck or Sector 9 Bamboo Bonsai Eclipse longboards between classes.
I won’t ride a skateboard. Ever. And I don’t think you want to either. So, we must resist, not with more violence because that would only bring us down to their level. Don’t throw sticks under their wheels or hip check them as they fly by. All we have to do is shame them. It’s attention and social acceptance that they want. Don’t give it to them. Let’s bring peace to our walking paths. Let’s take our sidewalks back.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Ryan Suppe studies journalism and philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @salsuppe.