Bruce Springsteen, as you may have heard unless you are living under a rock that is definitely not located in the Great State of New Jersey, apparently “got in a little hometown jam.” On Nov. 14, 2020, a park ranger arrested him on charges of driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and the use of alcohol in a closed area. According to news reports, Springsteen stopped his motorcycle to greet a group of fans in Gateway National Recreation Area, also known as Sandy Hook, when they asked him to share a drink. The rocker allegedly spent around 20 minutes with the fans and drank two shots of tequila. He then got back on his motorcycle to leave, when he was stopped by a ranger who directed him to perform a series of field sobriety tests. In his police report, the ranger contends that Springsteen “smelt strongly of alcohol” and that he was “visibly swaying” during the sobriety tests. After two shots and 20 minutes, these “observations” seem hard to square with principles of alcohol absorption. Indeed, more plausible are those leaked reports that Springsteen’s blood-alcohol content was apparently 0.02, merely one quarter of New Jersey’s legal limit. Nevertheless, the ranger slapped Springsteen with three violations and, because the alleged offense was committed on federal property, Springsteen is due to face the charges before a federal judge later this month.
The apparent disproportionality of these charges begs the question of why Springsteen was arrested in the first place. The officer surely knew Springsteen’s identity as one of the most well-known celebrities in the world, especially in his home state of New Jersey. Was there something more sinister motivating the arrest? Consider this: Springsteen is widely known for his outspoken views on politics and social justice. He has been a harsh critic of former-President Trump and a vocal supporter of former-President Obama, President Biden, and other Democrats. And while he is a champion of the working class, Springsteen famously angered police with his release in 2000 of “American Skin (41 Shots),” a song about the police killing of unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo. Even after the song prompted calls by police organizations to boycott Springsteen’s shows, the Boss has continued to perform the song to protest racial injustice and police brutality, including as recently as this past summer in connection with the killing of George Floyd. We of course do not know whether the arresting officer was motivated by political or personal animus. And we certainly do not condone drunk driving or other violations of the law. However, the reported circumstances of Springsteen’s case suggest that a criminal conviction for the alleged conduct would be grossly unjust and disproportionate.
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