Right Field

March Sadness

In this age of light-bulb outlaws and school-lunch police, there’s nothing too insignificant for the nanny state to concern itself with. That’s a lesson that John and Melissa McCafferty learned all too well on the morning of March 25, when construction workers accompanied by several state troopers abruptly showed up at their home in Claymont and pulled out the permanent basketball hoop that had been there for decades. A video of the event has since gone viral on the Internet. In an interview with National Review Online, John McCafferty spoke in greater depth about this latest nanny-state affront to personal freedom.

“When I bought my house in 2005, the basketball pole was here. It kind of rusted and the backboard was all messed up, but it was the first thing I fixed when I moved in, because I thought to myself, ‘That’s just the same kind of thing I had when I was a kid growing up.’” McCafferty left basketballs on the side of the street so that neighborhood children could play at any time.

So when McCafferty and several other residents received a letter from DelDOT in September telling them that their hoops were in violation of the state’s Clear Zone law, which prohibits obstructions within seven feet of the pavement’s edge in residential areas, McCafferty was puzzled. “One anonymous person filed a complaint with DelDOT. That’s fine, but I wish he would’ve come up to me and told me there was a problem. I’ve never had police here, never had a neighbor complain.”

A legal dispute ensued after McCafferty wrote to his state representatives, who in turn wrote to the head of DelDOT questioning the legal basis for the hoop’s removal. First, they argued, the law in question gave the state discretion to act, but no mandate, and, more important, the law was enacted in 1997–98 and contained no language that would give it retroactive effect; thus, the hoops in question were “grandfathered” in. Despite this ongoing legal battle, the family received another letter in December repeating the same charges and threats of removal. McCafferty once again contacted his state reps, and the dispute continued quietly.

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That all changed on March 18th, when a new head of DelDOT took office. One week later, a construction crew and state troopers were dispatched to remove the hoops. So when Melissa McCafferty saw neighboring poles being uprooted and placed in the back of a giant truck as she drove onto her street, she immediately pulled in front of her own hoop and climbed atop it in protest. She succeeded in stopping the removal after a news photographer showed up, but the victory was short-lived. The construction crew returned a few hours later with more police officers and told Mrs. McCafferty that if she went back on top of the pole, she would be arrested for disorderly conduct, or worse. This second altercation was the one captured on video, and it ended with the hoop’s removal by DelDOT.

“The cop in the hoodie [as seen in the video] made it known she had a gun, and put her hand to her hip several times. We were in fear for our lives. Here I’ve got five, six state troopers and armored construction workers against my wife, my 17-year-old son, and myself”, noted McCafferty.

And when it comes to intimidation and remarkably uncivil behavior by DelDOT and crew, that’s only the beginning. “At some point in the video you hear them say ‘you can’t taunt them [the construction crew],’” remarked McCafferty. “Well, keep in mind that this is the second time they tried to remove it. During the first episode, pretty much all the construction workers kept calling my wife—” Here McCafferty listed a string of colorful obscenities and noted that when he shouted back, he was warned against taunting. “I’m sorry, that’s my wife, and I will defend her honor until the death. That’s why I married her, that’s why I love her.”

All of this makes you wonder — how should one respond to this travesty? The answer lies in paraphrasing WFB: “I would rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Claymont phone book than the entirety of the Delaware Department of Transportation.”

Nat Brown is a deputy web editor at Foreign Affairs and a former deputy managing editor of National Review Online.

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