Arrested for drinking iced tea?

I have a massive commentary post about the Ferguson situation in the works. I had thought I could write a simple post on the issue and be done with it but it’s incredibly complex and I want to do it justice. In the meantime, there’s this story from about a month ago in Countercurrent News regarding the most unusual of arrests: a man, Christopher Beatty, was arrested outside a state-owned liquor store in North Carolina for drinking an AriZona brand iced tea.

In fairness, the cans do tend to look somewhat beer-like and I once had a bus driver mistake my (empty) AriZona iced tea can for a beer here in Houston. However this does not in the least excuse the incredibly sloppy judgment on the part of ABC Officer Rick Libero, who was the one to arrest Christopher to begin with. Also, Officer Libero simply identifies himself as “the police” which is not technically true, and a probable accountability dodge as well.

It’s unsettling to know that some get a law enforcement license, get hired on by whatever agency, and then think they are God. That part shouldn’t be news to most people, especially the remaining regular readers of this blog. The twist on this story, of course, is that the charges were dismissed two years later.

The mainstream media (namely the Fayetteville Observer) did publicize the case somewhat. In fact, there were at least three articles tracking the developments of the case:

  1. 2014 March 15 – Plea agreement reached: deferred prosecution probation for trespassing and resisting arrest (“resisting a public officer” under North Carolina law). Christopher refuses the deal because he feels he has done nothing wrong, choosing instead to roll the dice at trial.
  2. 2014 November 6 – Trial postponed until February.
  3. 2015 February 5 – Case dismissed by Judge Lou Olivera, based on defense attorney Allen Rogers’ motion to dismiss based on lack of reasonable suspicion for an arrest.

First, I have to commend Christopher’s courage in his willingness to roll the dice at trial and wind up with a potentially much harsher sentence than the plea deal. It’s a move that can backfire and has backfired for a lot of people in the past. I can’t speak in depth about just how corrupt the legal system is in Cumberland County, North Carolina; I’ve never been anywhere in the state much less the greater Fayetteville area. In general, given a completely fair legal system, when one knows one is innocent, it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, rarely is a legal system completely fair. Even the ones that are closest to being fair have the odds stacked ever so slightly in favor of the prosecution. Prosecutors work the same courts day in and day out; defense attorneys rarely if ever see the same judge twice in a row. The grand jury system has been reduced from its original purpose, a check on overzealous prosecution, to a “rubber stamp” procedure where often even the flimsiest of probable causes get an indictment. So the courage required to press forward and see the case through to the end of the trial should not be underestimated.

Second, I have to commend Judge Olivera for having the courage to stand up to the police and prosecuting attorney and throw the case out of his court. Moves like Judge Olivera’s have the potential to cause friction between the police and the courts. The police rely on the courts to carry justice through (well, for somewhat varying values of “justice”, see above). Without judges willing to just roll over and rubber stamp anything, the police could single-handedly lock up anyone they wanted; that is not how things function in a society of decent people.

Finally, I have to wonder if the AriZona Beverage Company should consider a packaging change. The words “iced tea” are clearly legible to anyone who cares to read, but the predominantly white can color and can size does all-too-closely resemble that of, say, Budweiser or certain other beers for those who choose to rely entirely on visual cues without reading the can. Cops can only be so smart so unfortunately relying on cops to be smart enough to read is not a viable strategy.