Something Is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is…

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Seems to me the media accounts of this story are missing the point. Yes, it’s amusing and a bit surreal to picture Bob Dylan wandering around a local neighborhood near where he’s giving a concert. But now everyone’s having a good laugh about how two local police officers had no idea who Dylan was when they stopped and detained him after some residents reported an elderly man acting “suspiciously.”

I don’t know.  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.

I guess I just don’t see the punchline.

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93 Responses to “Something Is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is…”

  1. #1 |  billy-jay | 

    Maybe some of us value personal freedom more than Mr. Dylan does.

  2. #2 |  billy-jay | 

    Also, that’s the strategy for ensuring the best possible outcome when dealing with police: make sure the think you couldn’t have been any nicer.

  3. #3 |  Les | 

    Yes, I called the police. I’ve no idea what the end result was – nor do I care.

    And what if he’d been mentally ill? Lost and scared? What if the cops tazed and arrested him? What if they merely took him into custody and forgot about him? You apparently have a leftist’s faith in the government and a bureaucrat’s compassion for the individual.

  4. #4 |  aberrant | 

    “Maybe some of us value personal freedom more than Mr. Dylan does.”

    Its probably close to a 100% chance that no one will ever know what Bob Dylan thinks about it.

    That’s why he’s still cool.

  5. #5 |  thorn | 

    You apparently have a leftist’s faith in the government and a bureaucrat’s compassion for the individual.

    And you apparently have no idea what my political beliefs are.

  6. #6 |  Frank | 

    #19 Consider yourself lucky that you were only patted down. I was actually mugged by two DC Police Officers for walking from the Navy Yard to the Orange/Blue line. Pigs took my lunch money for the week, like a pair of schoolyard bullies, because I had enough for 3 rocks of crack.

    And I won’t get into what happened to me after I filed a complaint against the pair of them. Bastards.

  7. #7 |  Joe | 

    You should not have to show ID to walk around.

  8. #8 |  Joe | 

    That said, that particular neighborhood in Long Branch has a fair amount of crime, so the fact neighbors called it in and the cops investigated it is not that terribly strange. But a simple interview should have sufficed.

  9. #9 |  Tim V. | 

    maybe they weren’t afraid of him. maybe they were afraid he might be in trouble, wandering around.

  10. #10 |  Constant | 

    I’m not sure that this is quite the same thing as totalitarian policing. There is no such thing as “the state” in the US, there are different levels of state – a town, a county, a state, a country. Being stopped by the local town police is not the same thing as being stopped by the FBI (an example of a national police force). The reasons for stopping are different.

    Something like this happened to me over a decade ago, in a small town in New England. I don’t recall the details, but the town police stopped me and pointed out that someone had reported my presence. I had been taking a long walk and had sat down to rest for a few minutes. It didn’t strike me as very remarkable at the time.

  11. #11 |  Les | 

    And you apparently have no idea what my political beliefs are.

    You’re probably right. But from this statement:

    Yes, I called the police. I’ve no idea what the end result was – nor do I care.

    It’s reasonable to conclude that you trust the police to deal with “unfamiliar, scruffy old men” (who happen to look at you and the houses in your neighborhood in ways you don’t like) and you don’t care how they do it.

    Whatever your political beliefs are, that kind of trust is typical of leftists and authoritarians. And your lack of compassion speaks for itself.

  12. #12 |  thorn | 

    It’s reasonable to conclude that you trust the police to deal with “unfamiliar, scruffy old men” (who happen to look at you and the houses in your neighborhood in ways you don’t like) and you don’t care how they do it.

    What’s your alternative suggestion, Les?

    If I see an unfamiliar man spend 5 minutes walking slowly back and forth on my sidewalk 10ft from my back door, looking at various windows, and *making sure I’m leaving* when I get in my car – what is the the proper response in your opinion, if any?

    Should I just ignore it? Go back inside, put my gun on my belt, and then go ask him what his business is outside my residence? No, I prefer to give that job to people that I’m paying to do it.

    If he was lost, hopefully he found his way. If he was missing/disabled/mental patient, then hopefully the hospital or his family was alerted that he’d been found. If he was casing my home, then hopefully he was detained and questioned. If he just wandered off into the woods, then so be it.

    I’ve been the victim of more than one crime, and as such have a greater tendency to distrust a stranger outside my back door as I do the average police officer. There certainly are bad officers, who abuse their power. I am not defended this. However, there are certainly bad citizens as well. I don’t know if the man in my case was lost, or a criminal – and as I had no further contact with him, no… I don’t really care. I’m well satisfied enough that when I got home, my dwelling was just as I’d left it.

  13. #13 |  LibCop | 

    “You are really starting to piss me off. Your standard for an incident being something to complain about is loss of life? Fuck you, man.”

    My “standard” is whether or not a Peace Officer is being a peace officer rather than a soldier/warrior, revenuer or code enforcer. If the outcome of an interaction with a private citizen is that no one gets hurt, no private property gets destroyed and no one gets unnecessarily injected into the criminal justice system while the public peace is maintained, well mission accomplished.

    That’s what I see happened with Mr. Dylan.

  14. #14 |  Joe Strummer | 

    LibCop makes plain what we all know: Cops are our enemies. They are not our friends. They don’t make life safer. Sometimes they catch a predator. Often enough they catch the wrong predator. Frequently enough, they lie, cheat, and themselves steal.

  15. #15 |  Fluffy | 

    If the outcome of an interaction with a private citizen is that no one gets hurt, no private property gets destroyed and no one gets unnecessarily injected into the criminal justice system while the public peace is maintained, well mission accomplished.

    Well, no one got “hurt”, except for the fact that a citizen detained because he had the nerve to walk on a public street without identification has been abased and humiliated and treated like somebody’s jail bitch.

    Dylan doesn’t seem to have felt that way [unless he is just smart enough to smile and cooperate with police, even if they are in the wrong] but that doesn’t change my evaluation of the situation.

    If I had been in Dylan’s situation, if I was feeling brave I would have told the police to go fuck themselves. If I wasn’t feeling brave [which, in all honesty, is most of the time] I would have accepted my detention with a clenched jaw and a bitten tongue and when it was over, and when the police were “satisfied” that they could release me to do more of my dangerous “walking around on a public street”, I would have made it my business to haunt those motherfuckers like Medea’s children for the rest of their motherfucking days.

  16. #16 |  Fluffy | 

    By the way, you know how I tell the difference between police that want to help me and police that don’t?

    The police that want to help me never fucking speak to me. At all. They certainly don’t interrogate me for walking down a public sidewalk.

    If I’m walking down a public sidewalk not doing anything, the police cars that drive by me and don’t stop are full of helpful, nice police officers. I can tell that, by the fact that they don’t stop.

  17. #17 |  Joe Strummer | 

    Incidentally, here again, African Americans learned that cops are enemies of citizens long ago. Now, lots of middle class whites got their panties in a bunch over the Don’t Snitch. But it was prescient.

    When cops racially profile you, pull you over on pretextual stops, search without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, and falsely accuse, you kind of come to the realization that cops are agents of the state and, inasmuch as they make life “safer”, that’s only incidental to their actual aim which is to enforce a certain kind of social order while getting their licks in too.

    Hence, don’t snitch.

  18. #18 |  JS | 

    Joe Strummer, good points but a lot of white folks on this site been practicing don’t snitch for a long time.

  19. #19 |  doubletrouble | 

    Folks are missing the point.

    The title of this post should have been,

    “Something’s Happening Here, What it IS Ain’t Exactly Clear…”

  20. #20 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #67 Joe Strummer: “Hence, don’t snitch”

    Not so fast, Joe Strummer.

    Black neighborhoods that adhere to the “stop snitchin'” philosophy also have phenomenal homicide rates. Is this something we really want to replicate on a national scale? Of course, this carnage is largely thanks to our “drug war.” Still, I think one needs to be nuanced when advocating this idea.

    If you advise those arrested for drug possession not to snitch on others to save themselves, then I don’t have a problem with that. Law enforcement’s reliance on the jail snitch is scandalous, and has done much to destroy lives, as well as the reputation of the criminal justice system. If citizens refuse to call the police about consensual drug use or possession, and remember their responsibilities as jurors (judge the morality of the law, as well as guilt or innocence) then we can starve the drug war beast.

    However, if you carry that “no snitchin'” message over to crimes against persons, or crimes against property, then neighborhoods deteriorate, and people begin to die with shocking regularity. If you are an anarchist, that’s your business. If you think people need to do more to ensure their own safety, I totally agree. But until we have a better system in place, we need to improve the ability of law enforcement to deal with REAL CRIME. Ignoring crime only emboldens criminals.

    Just some constructive criticism Joe. As the old adage goes, ideas have consequences.

  21. #21 |  anarch | 

    Irrational hatred of the Police isn’t being a Libertarian (although it is being an anarchist…)

    No it’s not.

    That is, it’s not irrational.

    And, if it need be said, hatred for an institution can exist without hatred for its particular members.

  22. #22 |  LibCop | 

    Read the last few replys, then come back and question again my thinking on how private citizens contribute to the Us v them mentality…

  23. #23 |  Joe Strummer | 

    Read the last few replys, then come back and question again my thinking on how private citizens contribute to the Us v them mentality…

    The difference is that as a private citizen I have never and will never go up to a cop and ask him what he’s doing driving down my street, and what’s his badge number, and is he really where he belongs, and is he doing his job right.

    But cops do that all the time. Now, if you’re a cop, you know that cops lie, cops arrest without pc, cops make up or exaggerate charges, cops and DAs put people in jail doing “DA time” before they can make bail or get the charges dismissed. Cops plant evidence. Cops taser old ladies. Cops beat people. This is why they became cops, so they could lord power and violence of other human beings. They’re the flip side of criminals.

    If you’re a private citizen, you realize that any interaction with a cop may end up with you spending time in jail if you don’t show due deference. Some private citizens are stupid (or brave enough) to ignore common sense and tell cops where to go. And they pay the price.

  24. #24 |  Travis anarch Bickle | 

    You talkin’ tuh me?!

  25. #25 |  thorn | 

    The difference is that as a private citizen I have never and will never go up to a cop and ask him what he’s doing driving down my street

    You haven’t? Well, I have… on more than one occasion.

    One time was during the riots in Cincinnati; there was a cop parked on our street at 2am in the morning. I walked out and asked him why he was sitting there; he replied “just making sure none of that trouble comes around here”. I thanked him for watching our street, wished him well, and went back inside.

    Another time, several cops were standing on our sidewalk with a obvious unmarked SUV and a couple of squadcars. I walked up, asked what was going on… they had just performed a search (and subsequent arrest) on the heroin dealer who lived upstairs from me – the same guy (who along with 2 friends) was standing outside my bedroom window every night with little baggies to sell to the people driving by with 22″ rims on their Camaros. I was rather glad to see his ass hauled out of the building.

    Then there was the time a car exploded in our parking lot. I didn’t walk out and ask the cops what was going on; the flames, explosion, fireball, and subsequent sirens were self-explanatory.

    Cops do lie sometimes. So do a lot of people that aren’t cops.

  26. #26 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #72 Joe Strummer: “This is why they became cops, so they could lord power and violence of other human beings”

    A bit of a broad generalization, don’t you think. Are you a clairvoyant? Can you get “in the heads” of police recruits? Even though I disagree with many of LibCop’s points, your rhetoric lends support to his claim.

    For the record, I believe that most abusive and/or corrupt police officers are made, not born. The system encourages a tribal, us v. them outlook more than anything private citizen’s do. And laws that encourage police to overreach, and invade people’s personal lives further damage the police officer, and his or her relationship with the community. Still, taking cheap shots (that you cannot support with evidence) doesnt’ help.

  27. #27 |  JS | 

    thorn “You haven’t? Well, I have… on more than one occasion.

    One time was during the riots in Cincinnati; there was a cop parked on our street at 2am in the morning. I walked out and asked him why he was sitting there; he replied “just making sure none of that trouble comes around here”. I thanked him for watching our street, wished him well, and went back inside.”

    Well you’re braver than I am thorn. Or you just don’t live in Texas, If you had done that here you would have been told to go back in your house right now and shut the fuck up, or you would have been beaten and arrested. So I guess the cops aren’t as brutal in Cincinnati, but they are in a lot of places.

  28. #28 |  Fluffy | 

    Read the last few replys, then come back and question again my thinking on how private citizens contribute to the Us v them mentality…

    Oh boo hoo hoo.

    Look, I don’t see why you would have a problem with my last post. I basically said that any police officer who sees me walking down the street and doesn’t stop to hassle me is a nice and helpful police officer. What problem could you possibly have with that?

    Just don’t insult my intelligence and expect me to believe that a cop who would stop and say, “What are you doing here? Show me some ID!” is trying to help me. Give me a fucking break. Maybe you could argue that they would [mistakenly] think that they were trying to help “society”, but in that situation they definitely, unquestionably aren’t trying to help me.

    And if my next-to-last post strikes you as contributing to an “us vs. them mentality”, tough. Being singled out and approached as “suspicious” in the absence of probable cause, being questioned and detained, and being driven around in the back of a squad car, subordinates and demeans the subject. That’s why it should be reserved for criminals. It’s precisely the fact that you think it’s just routine, no harm no foul, that makes it appropriate for us to adopt an “us. vs. you” mentality.

  29. #29 |  JS | 

    What Fluffy said.

  30. #30 |  johnl | 

    One of the things that alarmed Buble was that Dylan asked to be returned to the spot where he was picked up. Does he have a pregame ritual where he needs to walk so many steps counterclockwise? I wonder if Dylan wasn’t teasing or testing her with that question. It was a form of protest he decided not to push because he had a job to do the next day and he’s pushing 70 and needs his rest.

  31. #31 |  Frank | 

    #78 I kind of wish he had pushed it. I suspect being known as the ignorant pig who arrested Dylan for walking without a license would hardly be career-enhancing.

  32. #32 |  Dave W. | 

    I think the important legal question is whether Dylan consented to be transported by the police.

  33. #33 |  Miggs | 

    I do have an interest in an America where cops know their place and cops don’t stop people on the street without probable cause. But there are lots of people who fancy themselves libertarians who don’t mind that America, so long as they aren’t stopped at random.

    Only the libertarians in your head, dumbass. But let me guess, libertarians are just neo-cons who smoke pot, right?

  34. #34 |  Below The Beltway » Blog Archive » Bob Dylan Meets The Police State | 

    […] Balko makes a similar point: I find it pretty depressing. There was a time when we condescendingly used the term “your papers, […]

  35. #35 |  jonathan livingstone | 

    libcop said:

    “Fluffy seems flabbergasted at the idea that cops could actually want to help someone.”

    Did Bob ask for help?

    Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you. Show me your papers, or you’re under arrest. It’s for your own good! I am trying to HELP YOU, sir! Get in the fucking car NOW!

    One is reminded of the boy scout who “helped” the little old lady to cross the street, even though she didn’t want to cross the street.

    billy-jay said:

    “that’s the strategy for ensuring the best possible outcome when dealing with police: make sure the[y] think you couldn’t have been any nicer”

    Be sure to lick their boots to the highest possible shine. Do WHATEVER THE POLICE TELL YOU TO DO, with a smile on your face, and with plenty of “yes, sirs”. Otherwise, you deserve what’s coming to you. Why do people have any problem with this?

    thorn said:

    “You seem to imply that only after I come home and see a broken window should I call the police”

    Right – why wait until a crime is actually committed? Lock people up, detain them, hassle them PRIOR to their committing any crime, i.e. while they’re still innocent. Isn’t being “unfamiliar” enough? Probable cause? What are you, a card-carrying member of the ACLU? Because strolling around without ID is pre-crime for sure.

    Dave W. said:

    “I think the important legal question is whether Dylan consented to be transported by the police.”

    Consented? Come on! You speak as if he is a citizen with so-called rights, instead of a subject who’d best to keep his damn mouth shut and cooperate fully with the Proper Authorities, who are our rightful Lords and Masters!! The anti-cop mentality on this board is shameful!

    js said:

    “if you had done that here you would have been told to go back in your house right now and shut the fuck up, or you would have been beaten and arrested.”

    Seriously, this is accurate. My father’s friend runs a business in town, and noticed one day that a cop car was parked in the entrance to the business, blocking it to customers. After an hour or so, he ambled up to the car and asked what was going on. The cop immediately arrested him. The charge? “Interfering with police business.” He spent the night in jail and had to bail a hefty bail amount. Part of the incarceration process was a perp walk on the steps of the county courthouse downtown. They had him in leg irons, dressed in an orange suit.

    But the police are only trying to HELP us.

  36. #36 |  johnl | 

    Dave W he agreed to go for a ride to the hotel instead of a ride to the station. And he asked to be returned to where he was picked up, for reasons I hope will be explained someday in song.

  37. #37 |  Fluffy | 

    Oh wait, it’s a bit late to include this in the thread, but I don’t want to leave it out:

    According to Jack Dunphy, if Dylan had aggressively asserted his 4th Amendment rights, he would have deserved to get shot.

  38. #38 |  Marty | 

    ‘Irrational hatred of the Police…’

    my hatred is rational.

  39. #39 |  PA | 

    More coverage of this story, and a similar story involving an Indian actor here (via the comments section):
    http://aaeblog.com/2009/08/15/look-out-kid-its-something-you-did/

  40. #40 |  William | 

    Libcop: you seem to be forgetting that, for many of us, our feelings about police are not some theoretical beef but the product of lived experience. I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life and, outside of a few traffic stops during quota crunch, I’ve had six meaningful interactions with police. I’ve been directly asked for bribes, I’ve been held for six hours because I vaguely matched a description of someone selling drugs, I’ve had my car searched without my consent and without probable cause, and the one time in my life I needed police to do their job my case was dismissed because the detective on it failed to show up for court on an A felony.

    So yeah, my beef with police isn’t irrational, it’s learned. The next time you wonder why so many people treat police like shit, look at the assholes you work with. I’m an upper-middle class white guy from Chicago and my whole life I’ve been told that police are my friend. Still, I wouldn’t piss in your mouth if your lungs were on fire.

  41. #41 |  Charlie O | 

    What William #90 said. My experience with police (and my father was one) is that they are basically cowards. Police reports are amazing works of fiction. Police do not actually know the laws they are paid to enforce (I’ve had more than one ticket dismissed after being cited for violations that existed only in the mind of the cop). Police are arrogant and believe they are entitled to privileges not available to the rest of us.

  42. #42 |  philmon | 

    No, Joe Strummer does not have a point at all, except “white people bad! Stop complaining!”

    It is bad enough that black people have been stopped for walking in the “wrong” place while black — a wrong America has worked hard to overcome (and exacerbated by the fact that many will pull the race card no matter what they were doing … that doesn’t help the innocent at all) …. but when an old white man can’t, either, that is clear evidence that we’re moving in the WRONG direction. It’s gotten WORSE, not better.

    To say “hey, what’s wrong with that, welcome to the club” is absolutely assinine, self-congratulating leftist chest-beating, and illustrates the lowest common denominator mindset of the left. How does it make it better for the black man if we crank up the abuse on everybody. The dial needs to turn the OTHER way.

  43. #43 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » More on the Bob Dylan Incident | 

    […] this first link isn’t new, it just includes information that wasn’t included in the original story I linked to: According to Long Branch Police Department Sgt. Michael Ahart, Dylan had been peering […]