Protecting Arie

A light bulb

Image via Wikipedia

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.

*Rant finished*


Previous posts on this topic: My original post, and the recent update.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Opinion on News stories on autism and the law and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Protecting Arie

  1. nostromoswife says:

    I too have been watching the local forums (you might know me from the thread on noisy kids in food courts – Glensidevilla) The attitudes towards disabled people in NZ just break my heart. Fantastic that someone like you who actually knows the law was able to speak up on his behalf.

  2. Jack says:

    I assume you are all talking about Trademe forums. I would rather read 4chan forums than Trademe ones any day.

    One quote I have seen which I’m confused about is this one by Christchurch Central area commander Inspector Derek Erasmus,
    “One of the fundamental requirements of the diversion process is that the offender needs to be able to make an informed admission of guilt.”
    Are they saying he is unable to make an informed admission of guilt due to his ASD or that he denies doing anything wrong? If its the first point then aren’t the police agreeing with them selves? That Arie can’t make an informed admission of guilt cause of his mental illness. You would have thought that the Disabilities Commissioner would be involved, must be too busy.

    • That’s a yes re the TM forums, I’m not familiar with 4chan, will have to look that up.

      I find the precise meaning of that quote unclear too. I’ve had a solid read through their own diversion policy, the 2011 PDF I’ve linked to a couple of times, and all the referrals to “guilt” in there are only that an admission of guilt, or not admitting to guilt, is not a bar to receiving diversion. Quotes:

      “The offender must accept full responsibility for the offence by:
      • admitting that they committed the offence
      • show remorse for their actions, and
      • intimated or entered a guilty plea to the offence (optional).
      An offender who had pleaded not guilty is not barred from consideration for diversion,
      provided they now accept responsibility and meet the other diversion criteria.
      Acceptance of responsibility, short of a plea, is also not a bar to consideration for

      And again:

      “Note that a guilty plea (either entered or intimated) in court must not be a prerequisite
      nor a bar for diversion.”

      So in the quote you provide, the idea that they require an informed admission of guilt looks very odd, since they don’t (according to their own policy) actually need an admission of guilt – “informed” or otherwise. I’m assuming the reference is – as you say – to his mental state – but it’s less clear how a mental state that goes towards arguably making them less culpable, becomes a barrier to them receiving diversion.

      They appear to be working off some other policy they are currently enforcing – maybe a special one explicitly related to the situation in Christchurch. OK. If that’s correct, the fact is they still have the legal ability to grant diversion, they’re just choosing not to, as I understand the law. As usual, I’m open to hearing other legal interpretations about this issue; I am not a criminal lawyer. I’m just going by the publically available information.

      • Jack (Wife of Jack) says:

        The quote was from the recent article. It was given as a direct quote, but who knows what is going on these days.

        Also 4chan is not for everyone

  3. Jack says:

    An update that I just saw.

  4. Jack says:

    There are a lot of angry people out there from both the Left and Right of the blogosphere, which is uncommon. Not sure what can be done though, have even thought about writing to the Minister, but doubt that would do any good.

  5. Rob says:

    It’s a tough one… I mean… Where do you draw the line?

    A guy has a compulsion for electrical things, so goes looting…
    A guy has a compulsion for killing, so goes murdering…
    A guy has a compulsion for speed, so drives at 150kph…

    Where do compulsions turn from a mental problem to a criminal problem?

    • Hi Rob,

      The law does have well-tested systems in place to draw those lines, and then consequences for the actions of people who have geuine compulsions that affect their behaviour too (such as institutions for people who are a danger to themselves and others). The law also of course recognises the medical expertise of forensic psychiatrists, such as the one who has apparently provided supporting evidence for Arie’s case (which we will hear further about no doubt if and when it goes to court).

      It’s important not to let these difficult questions lend us to thinking no one ever has legitimate factors impacting in legally relevant ways on their mental states and behaviours. The question is: does Arie qualify as such a case (not, does anyone ever qualify as such a case). Just because it is a difficult question, doesn’t mean there is no answer.

      Beyond that, the situation with Arie must be taken on the facts: He’s already been in jail for 11 days for taking two lightbulbs, has expressed remorse and taken responsibility. The owners of the property have apparently accepted his apology and expressed no concern for the attempted theft. He had no criminal past. On all those facts alone – independent of the mental issue – I think he is being treated too harshly and unreasonably, though I do understand an aspect of that harshness because of the earthquake situation. But add in his mental issues, and it’s hard not to see this as clear injustice.

Share your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s