Policy & Law

“Do You Know Who I Am?”

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.


  • You give the cops more credit than I would have. 11 years is a long time. They could have been ignorant of Shriver’s fame.

  • I have avoided two tickets for speeding in recent years.

    Both times I was apologetic, made eye contact, kept my eyes on the wheel and when asked I said “oh dear, I did not realize I was going to fast”. I received warnings each time and a thank you for being courteous.

  • Speaking of “Do you know who I am?”, how cool was it to see Jazz Henry appear on stage at Jazz Fest yesterday! I felt like a proud family member! Kind of like how sad I felt when I heard Snoop ended up back in jail. It’s amazing how story telling can do that!

    • Hah. Sometimes the magic works, sometimes no.

      But in that instance, I recall that the State Trooper at the airport remembered the Homicide book and brought it up warmly, giving me the opening. I don’t think I led with that card.

  • Great story.

    My 7th grade daughter went on a service project today and learned about the continuing challenges in Haiti. She asked why we aren’t helping them. My cynical answer – because we’re too busy worrying about what Reese Witherspoon said to a police officer to keep her husband out of trouble.

    It’s all so overwhelming sometimes.

    Reading through the comments, I heard that Koch Bros story today too. In Cincinnati we went from an ok paper (where my father worked for his entire career) to this Gannett product that has very little non-syndicated writing. There are good people who work there, but how much can they do? And recently another round of layoffs, leaving me to wonder where they are finding people to layoff??


  • I have a friend who retired after 30 years as a flight attendant. She loves to tell the story of a passenger who was really difficult and not getting what he wanted from the attendant. So he started yelling: “Do you know who I am??? Do you KNOW who I AM???” And without missing a beat, she spoke out loudly for the entire cabin to hear: “Could somebody please help this man? He seems to have forgotten who he is.”

  • So David, you’re someone who’s known to be on friendly terms with a fair number of cops, so I have to ask: What’s your go-to card to play in such a situation? Who or what do you invoke? If you’ve never been in such a situation, then just hypothesize.

    • Generalized appeals to pity, claims of rushing to assist ill relatives, expressed self-loathing for being so inattentive as to not see the stop sign, all married to terms of abject remorse and overall respect for authority. Either that, or I just stay quiet and take the ticket. Depends on how much the officer is willing to engage.

  • Sounds like Reece has her head screwed on right…What’s the use of fame if you can’t get off a traffic violation?

    • btw- when I applied to join the police, the recruiter asked me why, and I said cos I loved Hill Street Blues….it didn’t provoke the response I was looking for.

    • My thoughts?

      First, the locally-owned newspapers went to the publicly-traded newspaper chains, which promised economies of scale and great wealth to the owning families at the point of sale, as well as the preservation of editorial independence. It was a lie.

      Then the chains went to Wall Street, where analysts who only measure the health and purpose of any endeavor in terms of short-term, quarterly profits, demanded greater mediocrity long before the internet arrived to pressure the industry. The analysts promised greater profits than ever before. In the end, they lied and diminished the product just in time for digitization.

      Then the newspapers went to the internet hat in hand, afraid to charge for their weakened, eviscerated product and hoping against hope that giving the news report away for free would somehow encourage a revenue stream. The mavens of new media lied.

      And now, those end-game capitalists who will not be content until nothing — no societal need, no communal ambition, no other American ideal save for maximized profit — is left standing. They , will buy up the gutted newspaper carcasses, so that they can lie on a scale that makes all the previous dishonesty a trifle. They will regard what remains of the news report merely as a platform to advance themselves and their capital, just as they regard the political system as such.

      Once and forever, capitalism is a worthy tool and a necessary one for creating mass wealth, but as to the distribution and uses of that wealth within a society? No, capitalism is not a metric for anything but profit itself. This is the lie at the core of free-market ideology and libertarianism. And free markets are never the whole or complete answer when addressing any societal goal, compact or responsibility. It’s easy to make money when all you give a fuck about is making money, to invoke Orson Welles. And the Koch brothers and others of their kind wish to build a society that does little but transfer wealth to a select few while obliterating any other ambition for American society. If newspapers can help them secure that future, so be it.

      But journalism in those cities where they own the daily newspaper and its digitized versions will be crippled until alternative news sources are developed by independent, professional journalists.

      What do you call it when capital has purchased not only government, but all plausible means to criticize governance? A prelude to fascism.

      • Thank you. I appreciate your insight into the troubled state of newspapering. It’s helped me synthesize ideas I’ve picked up from Lowell Bergman; Frontline’s four part series on this topic; and of course, the final season of The Wire. Ever the optimist, I’m curious if you see any bright lights on this otherwise bleak horizon. Beyond sources like TPM, ProPublica, CIR, and locals like the Tampa Bay Times/Poynter Institute, what original reporting is worth reading? Where do you get your news?

        • There are still people doing good work, but less of them, covering less ground.

          The hope is in the success of paywalls at the NYT and elsewhere and in the possibility that an online revenue stream for high-end journalism can be achieved. The NYT going to a paywall and the rest of the industry following that model may mark the end of the beginning with regard to rationalizing the digital revenue stream for journalism.

          • Just making sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying that we should be less focused on not-for-profit models and more focused on privately owned papers that charge a premium via paywall like the New Yorker now and the NYT in the near future? Should we accept and even embrace that news is ultimately a commodity, just one we should value a whole lot more? News is a funny thing, a commodity that (sometimes) operates in the public interest, but often times against.

            • I don’t care whether the journalistic enterprise is not-for-profit or private-for-profit.

              The predicates for good institutional, unaligned reporting in American communities going forward into the digital future are the same regardless.

              1) Ownership/management is locally based and untethered to Wall Street. It approximates or improves upon the model of family-ownership that led to the healthiest period for journalism in American history in the later half of the 20th Century.
              2) A revenue stream is established that allows institutional beat reporting by full-time professionals to be sustained. Meaning, enough revenue is achieved through payment for product so that a career-choice of professional, unaligned reporting is plausible and viable. Given that the delivery system for all news will be digital in the future, the most promising chance for such a revenue stream involves site memberships and paywalls and a healthy policing of content copyright.

              Is a non-profit model capable of achieving such? Sure. Is a locally-owned news organization, operated for profit, but at the same time free from the demands of Wall Street analysts to maximize profit at the expense of the long-term health of the product, also capable? Yes. Many family-run, locally-owned news organizations were content to grow themselves and improve their product on profit margins of six and seven percent for generations. Going to Wall Street was the great sin for high-end journalism, not necessarily the existence of mainstream journalism as private enterprise.

              That said, there’s nothing wrong with a non-profit model if the funding can be found and the local governance for such can be achieved.

                • Yup. You want to fuck up an American industry in two easy stomps:

                  1) Take it to Wall Street.
                  2) Listen to the analysts and promise to hit whatever number they want.

                  On the other hand, if you’re a CEO, you’ll make your quarterly profits and get your bonus and be out on the course at Hilton Head with a good tee time long before the company implodes and all of your employees are on the street. So, hey, you’ve got that going for you.

      • David,

        First off, great articulation. Powerful narrative.

        My take is that it’s emblematic of a larger form of moral corruption that has infected our society.

        In essence, we’ve come to conflate capitalism with democracy, as if they are one and the same, and setting ANY conditions on the former is tantamount to an assault on the latter.

        In this light, local, sustainable, and good for society is spun (by the moneyed interests) as “quaint” at best, and “elite” and “socialistic” at worst.

        One only has to look at how special interests have polluted the governance, economics and outcomes in banking, prisons, education, military, health care, food/farming and guns to understand how endemic the problem has.

        It’s the same reason NPR doesn’t want to piss of their patron, the Koch Brothers.

        Unless and until you change the real-world drivers of these conflicted interests, you can’t hope to materially change the outcomes.?

        Sadly, the death of the local newspaper is just another brick in the same wall.

        Do you have a thesis of how we reverse course?

  • Just had one of these incidents in Towson a couple months back. A County Councilman, driving a County car, was pulled over for DUI. He pulled into the parking lost of a tire store he co-owns, then gave the cop the whole ‘do you know who I am?’ and ‘you can’t arrest me, I own this parking lot’.

    He pleaded guilty this week.

    • Best traffic stop answer to “Do You Know Who I Am?”

      “Not until you give me your license and registration, no.”

      • Heh. Although personally my favorite one is a faux press to the radio button saying something like “Dispatch can you send me medical and psychiatric we have a guy here who doesn’t know who he is and keeps asking me if I know.”

  • There’s just something about those flashing red lights illuminating the inside of your Ford Focus that makes your brain shut down.

    I completely forgot that scalping tickets is an offense for which one could get arrested!

    Was it Bobby?

    • Bobby Shriver, yes. He later became an investor in the team, actually. He and his parents were invited to the game by the team’s owner at the time, which is why I sort of believe the story. You can just see him trying to explain to the officer that he was there as a guest of Mr. Williams and who his father was, and Sargent and Eunice are right inside the stadium, and…

      • Yes I can too. He’s now a member of the city council in Santa Monica – inspired by their infliction of hedge height on his home – and when he was running a friend had an event at her home where he spoke.

        I remember wishing I lived in Santa Monica so I could vote for him, and also because I heard that Maria and Eunice went door to door stumping for votes.

        That would’ve been better than answering the door to Alan Cranston wearing nothing but a towel when I was 17!

        • Well, if he ever googles hisself for any reason and sees this, please, Mr. Shriver, for the sake of historical accuracy and general posterity, please tell us the story of the scalping arrest. Where you lost when you were asked which Police District your dad was working, or was that all imagined by the rank-and-file of the department?

          Answer honestly. It’s a win-win at this point. If no, then you have the dignity of having taken the cuffs stoically. If yes, then you have generously given Baltimore cops a wonderful story on which they can dine out.

          My bet is on yes. The Kennedys are a family of givers.

  • The funniest part of that story to me is that he wasn’t even doing something “recreational” (ie drugs, booze, whores, etc.), he was trying to scalp a ticket. You wouldn’t think he needed the money…..

    • He had an extra ticket, yeah. Who wouldn’t try to scalp it before going into the game?

      Scalping is only illegal in Baltimore, when last I checked. Maryland’s other jurisdictions don’t care.

  • Kudos to the Baltimore PD in the case of young Shriver. However, sadly, out here in Southern California, that is the order of the day to name toss and throw around any type of “famous” weight that can be thrown.

    My best friend’s husband is a California Highway Patrolman and has pulled over the best of them. Celebs, kids of celebs, polticians, etc.

    He says the worst are reality TV stars who immediately think you “know who they are” and become impossible when you don’t.

    As for Ms. Witherspoon and her allegedly intoxicated spouse, they should be grateful they were pulled over before they caused serious harm to themselves or innocent others who may or may not “know who she is”.

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