Alec Baldwin Off the Hook for Bike Incident, NYPD Is Not

Credit: David Shankbone

Alec Baldwin, one of the elite class of New York’s resident hot-headed celebrities, walked away from the courtroom relatively scot-free on the matter of his arrest for bicycling the wrong way down a one-way street in May. Judge John Delury, tasked with doling out justice to the 30 Rock actor, seemed mostly amused at the idea of throwing Baldwin in the clink for a police tussle.

Baldwin asked to pay a fine rather than apologize to the police officers he got into a confrontation when they caught him merrily cycling against traffic near 5th Avenue and 16th Street, the Daily News reports. Judge Delury told Baldwin that if he stayed out of trouble, the charge would be dismissed. But otherwise the exchange was barely even a slap on the wrist. In fact, it was more like a pat on the head:

“You were in the ‘Search for Red October’?” the judge asked.

“No, ‘Hunt for Red October,’” Baldwin responded.

“That’s a good movie,” said Delury as he looked at the charges. “Looks like you have a short fuse.”

[This is where you either roll your eyes and whisper “Duh” under your breath or applaud Delury for his mastery of the understatement] Then, the Wall Street Journal reports, Delury dismissed Baldwin with the following remark:

Before granting the adjournment, the judge also asked Mr. Baldwin, “Can you stay out of trouble Alexander?”

The actor replied, “Sure, sure.”

Yes, Alexander, can you please avoid screaming fights with authority figures for six months? It’s tempting to just roundly mock Baldwin for landing in hot water again thanks to what, from all accounts, sounds like a tantrum. From several years spent in the fine press corps of a couple New York-based tabloids, I can tell you that covering Baldwin is no one’s favorite assignment. (My former colleague Matthew Lysiak wrote about it eloquently here, including an incident in which he personally witnessed Baldwin punching photographer Marcus Santos.)

But actually, Baldwin’s case is one in which the NYPD over-reached and the courts were forced to weigh in on something that was essentially pretty silly. Loathe as I am to agree with him, I do think that his tweet about the police attempting to “criminalize behavior once though benign” is pretty true. Reports vary on what actually went down between Baldwin and the officers, but likely he was just being mouthy. That’s a bad idea for sure, and I’m not a cop, so I don’t want to issue grand edicts from above on the particulars of their conduct, but it doesn’t sound like Baldwin’s petulance really warranted the all-hands-on-deck response it got.

The NYPD has lately had a bad habit of creating criminals rather than arresting them, as Harry Siegel recently pointed out. Take for example, Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson’s announcement that he would steer clear of prosecuting small-time marijuana arrests, and the NYPD’s subsequent response that, well, that won’t stop officers from arresting them anyway. “Yes, cops need discretion, and yes New York rightly puts more of them in high-crime neighborhoods where they’re needed. But when an act that’s just fine in Ditmas Park is a crime a mile east, that crosses a line from stopping criminals to making them,” Siegel wrote.

Or when the law isn’t just enforced unevenly, it’s wholesale violated by cops, as in a recent lawsuit brought against the NYPD for arresting citizens who were filming them without interfering in police work, an actual violation of First Amendment rights. It’s difficult to feel sorry for Baldwin, but feeling sympathy for other victims of unnecessary police action–like Staten Island father Eric Garner, choked to death in a police stranglehold–isn’t. Policing is necessary, a thing we need for the common good. Overpolicing isn’t. With a force as far-reaching and powerful as the NYPD, it’s important to know the difference.

Follow Margaret Eby on twitter @margareteby

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