Saturday, August 15, 2009


Homeland security?—Bob Dylan picked up by cops for being on the street

by Larry Geller

Google recognized almost 600 stories about a cop who didn’t recognize music legend Bob Dylan. The angle was always that a 20-something cop did not know who he was and so picked him up from his walk to get some ID.

There were several variations on the story, but none that I have found so far questioned why police detained a 68 year-old man for being on the streets in the rain. A sample from the Daily Telegraph, which refers to more than one phone call though other stories mention only one, from a resident:

"We dispatched a young woman officer. She is 22 and unfortunately she had no idea who Bob Dylan was.

"He was on a walkabout but she wasn’t entirely convinced of his innocence.

"She took him back to the hotel to check his papers, then she called us to check who Bob Dylan was.

"I’m afraid we all fell about laughing. If it was me, I’d have been demanding his autograph not his photo ID.

Suppose he wasn’t Bob Dylan? What about civil liberties? Can a person now be hauled away by cops simply for being out in the rain, or looking suspicious? Why did the police have to be “convinced of his innocence?”

Can I place a phone call and have someone picked up? Can you call the cops and have me picked up? Do I have to show ID to continue my walk? Would that even matter, and make me “innocent?” Grrr.

So far the mainstream press has not asked these questions.

Update: It was pointed out to me that I forgot to say where this happened. It was in Long Branch, NJ.

There are some articles suggesting that Dylan might have been looking for Bruce Springsteen's old home, which was nearby, and was the place where he wrote “Born to Run.”. Apparently Dylan has done this before, just showing up where Neil Young and John Lennon had lived.

The stories indicate that he told the police he was with a tour, where he was staying and so forth. For some reason the police officers did not bother to check the story on their radio. They could have found that he was telling the truth very quickly. In any case, the civil liberties issue of whether he should have been picked up or not seems to be a discussion to be found only in the blogs.

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Those questions haven't been asked because all of those actions are indeed allowed.

Merely looking like a suspicious person is legal reason enough for police to request ID. This does not violate any search and seizure laws.

Looking suspicious is indeed probable cause for questioning, ID confirmation and possibly determining that some criminal violation is or has taken place.

If, for example, in the questioning and ID check, burglar tools or drug paraphernalia were discovered "in plain sight", an arrest could be made.

You didn't know that??

look out kid, it's something you did, god knows when, but you're doin' it again.

C'mon, Anonymous, they didn't find any burglar tools or drug paraphernalia in plain sight. You didn't know that?

I think Anonymous' point is befuddled by its lack of proper legal terminology or citation to legal reference.

In policespeak and 4th Amendment law, the NJ police conducted a "Terry stop" (from Terry v Ohio, 1968). Police may stop and ask ID/question anyone with whom they have a "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed. Reasonable suspicion is less than the probable cause needed to conduct a lawful search or seizure. This was vastly extended a few years ago in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 2004 (5-4), where SCotUS said that police can simply request ID and that such requests do not violate the constitution.

That being said, "merely looking suspicious" as in a police's hunch is not sufficient cause to conduct a Terry stop ("good faith defense would evaporate the protections of the constitution" I think is what Terry said). So Anonymous got the general fascist tendency of American police jurisprudence correct, but inappropriately extended it beyond where the law current permits such stops to occur.

"...check his papers..."
the pigs can demand to know anyone's identity. if the person can't produce positive confirmation of their identity, they can be taken back to the station (arrested) until their identity is confirmed. police state.
"Papieren! Wo sind deinen papieren?!? Du komnt mit mich!"

Thanks as always to line of flight for your fine comments, and also Danke schön! to Justin.

When this kind of thing happens to a prominent person, whether it's Henry Louis Gates or Bob Dylan, they get headlines and sometimes a trip to the White House. We become outraged because of course our assumptions are on the side of a professor, or a geriatric rock star, because they have credentials!

All this, of course, often serves to obscure the injustices that ordinary, uncredentialed people like the homeless endure every day. We should always be as ready to defend the high-school drop-out, the unwashed and dirt-covered, the mentally-ill wanderer, the young, unemployed man, the runaway, the drunk, and the ex-con, as we are to defend our "heroes."

On a related note, there was much legitimate consternation on Kaua'i when the police department announced its intention to acquire TASERs and riot gear in the wake of the Superferry protests. But few of the white middle-class protesters, who assumed that such equipment would be used against them in the event of another protest, joined their concerns to the reality that between protests, the equipment was much more likely to be used against low-income and homeless people of color.

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