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Sunday, August 16, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: You’re Bob Dylan? NJ police want to see some ID

The incident began at 5 p.m. when a resident said a man was wandering around a low-income, predominantly minority neighborhood several blocks from the oceanfront looking at houses.

The police officer drove up to Dylan, who was wearing a blue jacket, and asked him his name.


The officers asked Dylan for identification. The singer of such classics as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” said that he didn’t have any ID with him, that he was just walking around looking at houses to pass some time before that night’s show.

The officers asked Dylan, 68, to accompany them back to the Ocean Place Resort and Spa, where the performers were staying. Once there, tour staff vouched for Dylan.

The story has been reported basically as a case in which the news is that some young police officers didn’t recognize Bob Dylan. Seems to me that the real story is that a man can’t go for a walk in broad daylight1 at a more than reasonable hour without ID lest he risk having to accompany the police somewhere to explain one’s actions (if not potentially arrest if one can’t easily confirm one’s identity). Now, the story reports Dylan was polite and cooperative and perhaps he didn’t mind being accompanied back to his hotel to have his identity confirmed. On the other hand, what if Dylan hadn’t wanted to go with the police? What if he had been, oh I don’t know, a bit boisterous with the police? As James Joyner points out, there is simultaneously no law requiring one to carry identification, yet simultaneously the courts have shown a great deal of deference to the police on the subject of stopping and detaining citizens.

As such, I agree with Alex Knapp:

That’s just utterly disgusting to me. A 68 year old man out for a walk shouldn’t have to offer his ID to the police. Was he committing a crime? No. Was he suspected of committing a crime? No. Were there any indications that a crime was going to be committed? No. He was just “suspiciously” enjoying public rights-of-way.

Look, someone calls in suspicious behavior and I understand the need to check it out. But an old man walking down the street isn’t “suspicious.” And there’s no law that says that a person has to have ID with them at all times, so I fail to see what justified the need to have two police officers detain somebody until someone could vouch for their identity.


Update: Radley Balko also notes the “ha ha, they didn’t know it was Dylan!” aspect of the coverage and rightly points out:

There was a time when we condescendingly used the term “your papers, please” to distinguish ourselves from Eastern Block countries and other authoritarian states. Post-Hiibel, America has become a place where a harmless, 68-year-old man out on a stroll can be stopped, interrogated, detained, and forced to produce proof of identification to state authorities, despite having committed no crime.

I guess I just don’t see the punchline.

  1. Update: according to reports, it was raining. That doesn’t really change much in my mind, but I thought I should note it. []
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One Response to “Bob Dylan and the Police (and What it Illustrates)”

  1. PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Things we don’t Need (Guns at Political Rallies) Says:

    [...] have expected. Even with the legality of carrying these weapons in the states in question, since going for a walk in the rain or getting irate in your own home can lead to police detention, if not arrest, I am mildly surprise [...]

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