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Bob Dylan Meets The Police State

by @ 2:10 pm on August 16, 2009. Filed under Celebrities, In The News, Individual Liberty


Bob Dylan was taken into policy custody the other day for having the gall to walk around the streets of a small town on the New Jersey coast without identification:

Rock legend Bob Dylan was treated like a complete unknown by police in a New Jersey shore community when a resident called to report someone wandering around the neighborhood.

Dylan was in Long Branch, about a two-hour drive south of New York City, on July 23 as part of a tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp that was to play at a baseball stadium in nearby Lakewood.

A 24-year-old police officer apparently was unaware of who Dylan is and asked him for identification, Long Branch business administrator Howard Woolley said Friday.

“I don’t think she was familiar with his entire body of work,” Woolley said.

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. According to Woolley, the following exchange ensued:

“What is your name, sir?” the officer asked.

“Bob Dylan,” Dylan said.

“OK, what are you doing here?” the officer asked.

“I’m on tour,” the singer replied.

A second officer, also in his 20s, responded to assist the first officer. He, too, apparently was unfamiliar with Dylan, Woolley said.

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.

While many in the media have treated this as a funny clash-of-the-generations story rooted in the fact that these two 20-something cops had no idea who Bob Dylan is, Alex Knapp is pissed about the incident:

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.

Radley Balko makes a similar point:

I find it pretty depressing. 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.

And what’s even more depressing is that if this had been someone other than Bob Dylan, they most likely would’ve been formally arrested and placed under psychiatric observation. All for committing the “crime” of walking on a public street without ID.

We’ve come a long the wrong way, baby

4 Responses to “Bob Dylan Meets The Police State”

  1. tmana says:

    Back when I was in Junior High (early 1970’s), we were taught that in many localities, it was a citeable offense (“vagrancy”) to be caught outdoors without personal identification (didn’t need to be a driver’s license/non-driver ID at that time, an employment ID, credit card, library card, or social security card would do) and at least enough money to make a payphone call.

    We were also taught that these vagrancy laws were often unevenly applied (cf “John Crow laws”).

    I don’t know that these ordinances were ever repealed (though I know people who have been involved in the repeal/rescind process) — but I can only presume that the more paranoid a society we become, the more these laws are likely to be enforced.

    Also, I should note that a lot of New Jersey beach communities are somewhat “selective” of the clientele with which they are willing to share their natural resources.

  2. Tom Maguire says:

    FWIW, the police were responding to a resident’s complaint, as the story notes.

    This version of the story does not note that it was raining heavily (an odd time to be out for a walk) and, no, apparently Dylan was going beyond the public right of way and entering people’s yards. From ABC:

    “When Dylan wandered into the yard of a home that had a “For Sale” sign on it, the home’s occupants became spooked by his appearance and called police with a report of an “eccentric-looking old man” in their yard, Long Branch Police said. One of the occupants even went so far as to follow Dylan as he continued on down the street. ”

    The officer was also worried that she might have a nutter on her hands (or anyway, an old-timer with a medical condition):

    “”We see a lot of people on our beat, and I wasn’t sure if he came from one of our hospitals or something,” Buble said. ”

    If Bob Dylan (or my late father) had been the victim of a hit and run or a mild stroke and was wandering a strange neighborhood in the rain (and a heavy mental fog) I would not be outraged if the police intervened.

    The kicker, again from ABC – Bob Dylan *may* have been looking for the house Bride Springsteen was in back in 1974-5 when he wrote the “Born to Run” album; the house was a few blocks away, and in the last year or so Dylan has checked out the old homes of John Lennon and Neil Youg.

  3. David says:

    I’ve also heard of vagrancy laws. Wonder if they are still on the books?

  4. Scandia says:

    This is AMERICA for pete’s sake! In America one does not WALK – one drives a car. Dylan was absolutely un-American IMHO, suspiciously so!

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