Khasan Al-Mateen, 11, and Cooper Chasm, 13, met while riding bikes in their housing development, Rockland Ridge, a gated community in Baltimore County. They became fast friends after also discovering a shared love for basketball.
Little did they know their admiration for hoops would spark a racial debate over covenants in their small community and attract the attention of Maryland Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, who made it her priority this General Assembly session to create a more equitable culture in the state.
The boys play pick-up games and have shootouts on portable hoops set up in their driveways as they debate the best NBA player — Khasan likes Stephen Curry and Cooper, LeBron James. It has served as a much needed distraction and outlet during COVID, as restrictions to stop the spread of the virus meant both boys were spending a lot of time at home.
But the families of the boys say they have been ordered to remove the hoops, and one was threatened with legal action. TheRockland Ridge Homeowners Association said the hoops violate a declaration in its covenant that prohibits recreation equipment, and members have been advised by their lawyer that they can’t make an exception. To allow the hoops, the declaration would have to be formally amended, a process that would require the approval of homeowners in the community.
The boys are crushed at the thought of losing one of their favorite pastimes, and their parents suspect that their sons are being discriminated against: Khasan is African American, and Cooper Korean American. It certainly brings to mind the history of covenants and their use by residents of white neighborhoods to keep African Americans and other non-white people out. The Baltimore area was one of the earliest adoptees of such tactics. Basketball hoops are also often targets of shutdowns and closures because of old stereotypes that they bring trouble by attracting crowds of African Americans. Khasan’s and Cooper’s parents said they have seen soccer and lacrosse nets in the neighborhood, sports dominated more by white players. I understand why they would be alarmed and protective of their sons.
Rockland Ridge Homeowners Association President and Chair Henry J. Suelau said that “most emphatically, racial bias played no part” and that the decision was made on historical precedent. An application for a portable hoop was denied by the HOA’s architectural review committee in 2017 and another removed in 2020 after a complaint by a neighbor. Neither were people of color, he said. He knows no existence of soccer and lacrosse nets and said that a swing set was recently denied as a recreational structure. “I am sorry they feel that way,” he said of Khasan’s and Cooper’s parents. “I can assure you that was not the intention.”
Even if the intention wasn’t there, that sentiment was felt, although unfortunate, by the boys and their families.
When Speaker Jones learned about the debate going on at the Rockland Ridge complex, she was bothered enough to call for legislation to address it. The issue may not be as big as police reform or racial inequity in procurement, but subtle forms of potential racism are still impactful.
“All these things play into parents not wanting their kids to grow up with all these mircoagressions,” said Alexandra Hughes, the Speaker’s chief of staff. “These things impact people … more than they may even realize.”
The legislation, House Bill 1347, has passed the House, where it was submitted at the speaker’s request by Delegate Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat and chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee. It would “prohibit unreasonable limitations on the location and use of a portable basketball apparatus on property in which an individual owns or has exclusive right to use.” It also has key support in the Senate. Sens. William C. Smith Jr. and Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher, Montgomery County Democrats, and chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Judiciary Proceedings Committee, both said they support the legislation, which is pending in their committee. The lawmakers played their own pickup game with the boys Sunday. Mr. Smith remembers his own ball playing days growing up and said he doesn’t want to see other children denied the opportunity to play the game.
I hope the Senate passes the legislation as well, not just for the children at Rockland Ridge, but in other neighborhoods where they are restricted by rules and policies against rights to basic recreation on their own property. If it was up to me, I would let the kids play ball. If anything, the case shows the problems with restrictive covenants. The association could have handled the dispute better as well, perhaps holding an emergency session to consider an amendment to change the rules since the issue had caused such a commotion in the neighborhood. At the very least, they should do frequent scans of the neighborhood to see if others are using soccer and lacrosse nets to make sure the rules are applied fairly.
The incident was a good life lesson for Cooper and Khasan about standing up for themselves — and showed the bonds of friendship among young boys. Cooper testified at the House hearing. His mom Rose is an emergency room doctor who has worked many hours during COVID. Shooting hoops was the perfect way for him to exercise safely.
“The one thing I never thought would be taken away during this pandemic was my portable basketball hoop,” he testified.