Pedigree information

In the NYT on November 29th, a report (“The Accented Activist, the Blue Woman and One Curious Year in Court” by N.R. Kleinfield) on the story of Vesselin Dittrich and his encounter with the Port Authority police back in August 2010; his case, for disorderly conduct, is expected to go on trial in the middle of this month. The central event is Dittrich’s refusal to say what country he was from.

(Background information: Dittrich is from Bulgaria, and he has a noticeable foreign accent.) Though the story of how he came to be approached by the Port Authority police is interesting on its own — that’s where the blue woman comes in —  for my purposes here the tale begins when

an officer told Mr. Dittrich there would be no charges…, but requested identification. He told her he did not want to give it. She told him, he said, that he would be charged with obstruction. He gave his name and address. Then she asked what country he was from. He said he did not have to say. When she insisted and he insisted, he was taken to the police station in handcuffs and given a summons.

It accuses him of disorderly conduct “by causing public inconvenience and annoyance and refusing to provide pedigree info.”

Dittrich’s involvement with a Hoboken advocacy group might or might not play a significant role in the story. But on asking what country he’s from:

the Port Authority said that it was policy, though not the law, for officers to at times ask for a person’s country, depending on factors like whether the officer thinks an interpreter is needed or to establish an identity.

As it happens, Mr. Dittrich does not think it inappropriate for police officers to ask where you are from in suspicious circumstances. “If there’s a terrorist threat, I can understand,” he said. But not in his case.

Pedigree information as a piece of administrative jargon was new to me; googling on the expression pulls up lots of items — but involving genetics, especially in the context of animal breeding.

Otherwise, the case turns on what information officials are allowed to ask about and what the consequences, especially legal consequences, are (in particular contexts) of refusing to supply that information.


One Response to “Pedigree information”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Michael Palmer on Facebook:

    If some government agent says “pedigree information” to me, I think “Ahnenpass”.

    Yes, an ugly echo to the Nazi-era Aryan passes.

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