I have a personal policy of not writing posts when I am feeling overly emotional, since emotions change and intensity at one point in time can look extreme an hour later. But screw it. I am so sick of the misinformation and ignorance surrounding the “Autistic Christchurch Looter” case, that I’m breaking my policy guidelines.
Let’s start with a little 101: It is not true that “every criminal has a mental illness and therefore mental illness is not relevant to crime”. I can’t believe how often I’ve had to battle this crap-filled statement over the past 24 hours. I get that some people have never heard the term “mens rea”, and wouldn’t know a statute book if it hopped into their lap and turned to the relevant section, subsection, paragraph and roman numeral. I also get that many people (think they) have never encountered a criminal; all criminals must be those crazies who need help and to be put away for their own and everyone else’s benefit. But come on, really, all criminals have mental illnesses? I just.. really?
I’ve also seen one person boldly state (and then get cries of approval) that these mentally disabled people want to be treated like the rest of us normal people (he said he’d even seen TV ads telling him they were his equals by golly), but then don’t want to be to treated equally in the courts. As if he was some wise man. As if his reasoning and understanding of how the legal system operates wasn’t deeply flawed. As if wanting to be able to have a job and have friendships and be treated like a human being, is too much to ask for if you dare ever try to defend yourself in a court based on a particular mental state relevant to a particular crime committed at a particular time. By that reasoning, people with inherent mental illness have less rights in front of a court than other members in society who don’t have a mental illness, since the former can’t raise the same available defences. Brilliant. And a topic I’m tempted to do an entire post on because of the utter dumbassness of it all.
And all this confusion over diversion, with so many people stating the police had no option to offer it; that the police were bound by the law to force Arie to a full-on court-case. Does it have to be pointed out that the judges would not have even suggested diversion for Arie’s actions unless it had been a legal option? Do people out there really think the courts don’t know when diversion is a legal option, and when it isn’t? They think judges just toss the words around because they were on letter D that morning on their word-a-day calendar? How about – just a suggestion – people look up the policy about diversion before they claim the police had no legal option, especially considering that the police themselves never said they didn’t have a legal option, but that for policy reasons they chose not to offer it. (The same policy resource that spells out that a plea of “not guilty” does not bar the option of diversion might I add, for those who keep saying the opposite.)
And then you’ve got to deal with those who claim that a plea of not guilty is the same as Arie refusing to take responsibility. Oh really? So personally visiting the owners (who weren’t, might I add, told until two weeks ago that someone had attempted to steal two light-bulbs from their ruined building), and admitting face-to-face that he had done the act and was sorry, isn’t called taking responsibility? Guilty in the eyes of the law is a legal question, separate from taking responsibility in the broader and moral sense.
I’m not saying out-right that the police didn’t follow their own policy by the way – they had a hardline policy with the earthquake looters, and they have a preference to get a guilty plea before granting diversion – but their own official policy on diversion did leave the door open for Arie, and that’s what the judges were appealing to when they suggested diversion more than once. The police chose not to grant it.
As for the police and / or army beating Arie up, and taunting him at the time for his disability. Gosh, I don’t know, I hope that’s wrong. The friend’s evidence sounds believable to me, considering the evident black eye and attitude towards any and all looters at the time. I’m not anti cops. I do think the police will tend to be anti-autistic people (another recent example is this wrongful conviction of an autistic man) because they rub police instincts the wrong way (lack of eye contact, lack of communication, unusual anti-social behaviours, isolated individuals who act funny), but I don’t think the police are out to get them. I just think they’re taking their looter hardline approach too far, and refusing to back down when they have good reason to do so.
I’m running out of puff now, which I suppose is a good side of blogging, right? Let it all out, get it out there then walk away. The public’s comments surrounding this case just make me so angry, and so sad, and I genuinely care what happens to this man. I was in heart-felt tears watching Arie speak to “Sunday” last night on TV. I want so much for his pain to stop, and to see him get on with his life. He has been punished already, by being in jail for 11 days after the arrest (during which he was on suicide watch), and by this permanent damage to his reputation (“the face of looting”), all for actions that were in all likelihood beyond his meaningful control (according to a forensic psychiatrist, details on that precise argument are pending).
All because of two light bulbs. Not the “antique light fittings” his attackers are trying to claim; old, worn-out, light bulbs. He went in to get a socket on the wall, but it was too new (he prefers older models), so changed his mind to getting two light-bulbs. Not to sell, but because he wanted them on display in his home because he likes electrical things. Has a compulsion towards them. (I’ve even seen someone conflate together his electrician aspirations with the attempted theft by saying Arie intended to turn selling lightbulbs into a business. Beggers belief.) He didn’t even get out of the damaged building with the light-bulbs either, he was caught in the building. A building so badly damaged that it posed a danger to him. A building so badly damaged that the owners say they don’t care that he wanted the light fittings.
I’m not an apologist for crime, not with my background, I could never be that. But he’s clearly accepted responsibility and wants to make amends. Also, for what it’s worth, there’s this little thing we have in New Zealand called “innocent until proven guilty” which seems to have been forgotten. And when the media tried to run the story to explain that he wasn’t the looting monster he had been made out to be in the courts – the “face of looting” – the media is now under attack for prejudicing and discussing a case before the courts. (A case that should probably have never even made it that far.) So it’s OK to actively set out to make the public loathe him, but not OK to try to address the errors of that loathing. Disgusting. You can’t have it both ways, surely. Surely..? Radio personalities and bloggers and forums are allowed to openly attack him, but no one’s allowed to defend him?
Whether Arie is declared guilty or not, remains to be seen. But there are some things I am willing to say now. He has been treated in an extreme manner, that has not taken into account his serious and relevant mental challenges (which go beyond Aspergers according to his family – he has other mental disabilities too). He has suffered already, hugely out of proportion to his supposed crime. This first-time offender, who has accepted responsiblity and is willing to make amends, does not belong in jail for attempting the theft of two light-bulbs from an already destroyed building. That’s where I stand on all this. I know many people don’t agree with me, and that’s fine, but most of the attacks I’ve seen on him so far are chock-filled of mis-information and factual errors. (If you see any such errors in my own post, I openly and honestly invite you to point them out.)
I wish I could protect him. The mother in me wants him to be safe and happy. I see pieces of my son in his words and actions and it hurts me to see people attacking him in these unfounded ways. I fight the little fights where I can – on forums, and on my blog – but his fight is destined for the court. It’s in the hands of his lawyer, and the legal and medical experts now. I just hope justice is swift, and he can get back to his life as soon as possible.