I’m not much on tabloid gossip as news content, but Reese Witherspoon’s encounter with an Atlanta police officer, in which she tried to prevent her husband’s arrest during a traffic stop by playing the celebrity card, brings to mind one of my favorite Baltimore police stories. I just gotta let fly.
As to Ms. Witherspoon, who has already apologized, I offer only sympathy. While I understand it looks horseshit after the fact to be caught wielding fame in such fashion, the more honest and less hypocritical assessment is that all of us will use any card we think we have at the moment that our better half is taking cuffs. We gave to the FOP lodge this year? A cousin is a state trooper? A brother in law is a federal prosecutor? You loved Hill Street Blues? Rodney King deserved as good an ass-whipping as he got? Admit it, and lose the self-righteous sneer: If you could rightly claim that you were third in line to the British Crown and could get the Secretary of State on the cellphone to ream out the state trooper, you’d do so in a heartbeat to keep your drunken ass out of jail. Talk the shit now and hope it matters, because the next call is to a bail bondsman. So this isn’t me piling on the latest stray celebrity. She took a weak, unthinking shot; it went wide.
No, I’m here only for the fun of remembering the day in 1983 when the son of heralded Sargent Shriver of the Kennedy clan — and the Kennedys are the highest branch of the American royal tree — was chagrined to find himself detained by Baltimore police officers outside of Memorial Stadium. He was trying to scalp a playoff ticket.
As the Northern District wagon pulled up on 33rd Street, the young scion, desperately reaching for something — anything — that might disrupt the process, blurted out:
“I’m Sargent Shriver’s son.”
The cops paused, handcuffs hovering.
“Sargent Shriver? He’s my father.”
“Yeah? Which District is he workin’?”
The look of momentary confusion that crossed the younger Shriver’s face sealed his fate. The next sound was the click of the cuffs, followed by the metallic slam of the wagon door. The Shriver story was told and retold in roll call rooms and radio cars for months afterward. I concede that the verbal exchange between arrestee and officer never found its way into the actual incident report — though seldom does any dialogue ever get such a mention unless it’s evidentiary — but perhaps it is no more than station house apocrypha. Certainly, it’s too good a story to check out, as we used to say in newsrooms.
In 1983, Shriver’s name certainly rang out in Baltimore. He’d been the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1972, and he was a Maryland native descended from a signer of the state constitution. Given that much, it’s also the sort of tale that, if true, proves that on certain days, and in certain improbable moments, the indifferent and not-easily-impressed metropolis of Baltimore proves itself to be among the greatest cities in Christendom.