Mimesis Law
26 May 2017

Stupid Arrest Stories: Not So Cute When You Think About It

Mar. 25, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — It must have been an awfully slow news day when the folks at Time magazine decided put out an article with this gripping title:

Man Arrested for Not Returning a 14-Year Overdue VHS Tape of Freddy Got Fingered

Sure enough, the article delivers exactly the sort of riveting content you’d expect, first explaining the movie won an award in 2002 for “Worst Picture of the Year.” Here’s what happened:

A North Carolina man was arrested earlier this week for allegedly not returning a VHS rental of Freddy Got Fingered that was due in 2002.

Police discovered there was a warrant out for James Meyers’s arrest after they pulled him over for a broken taillight while he was driving his daughter to school on Tuesday. The officer who ran the 37-year-old Concord resident’s license noted he was still in possession of a copy of the 2001 film. Meyers said he was asked to step out of his vehicle before he was informed of the charges against him. “I thought he was joking,” he told WSOC-TV.

The piece was no doubt intended to be a bit of fluff. It’s surprising police anyplace would arrest someone for not returning a video rental. That it’s a rental of a really terrible movie adds a comedic twist. It’ll get some laughs and probably some clicks from people who can’t believe that could really happen. If you think about it a little more, however, you’ll hopefully start to realize that there’s a dark side to this.

As the article goes on, it becomes more apparent:

Meyers was allowed to finish taking his daughter to school after promising he’d turn himself in later that day. He was handcuffed and taken into custody when he arrived at the police department. Authorities released the following statement regarding the incident: “The warrant, which is signed by a magistrate, directs law enforcement officials to arrest a person and take them before a judicial official without unnecessary delay to answer to the charges. In lieu of arresting Meyers on the scene of the traffic stop, the officer allowed Meyers to arrange a time to come to the Concord Police Department to be served with the arrest warrant… Officers are required by policy to handcuff anyone in custody prior to entering the secured area inside of the magistrate’s office.”

That officer didn’t have to do Meyers a solid. If the warrant really did tell the cop to arrest him and take him before a judge without unnecessary delay, there are lots of cops out there who would do just that. It may be a tiny minority, in fact, that would even think about doing what that cop did. That’s where the story goes from whimsical to troubling.

What if Meyers was arrested right there, missed work, and lost his job? How funny would it be then, with him no longer being able to support his family? If he was arrested and the cop took him before a judge right away, what would his daughter do to get to school? Would it still be funny if she missed an important exam? What if she lost some important opportunity? And what if there was no one else to get her at all? Would CPS get involved?

Would it still be an amusing situation if the cop found something illegal while arresting him? Imagine the cop found a tiny bit of marijuana. Or worse yet, imagine the cop was jumpy for some reason and viewed Meyers as a threat, or maybe Meyers became belligerent. What if the situation somehow escalated into yet another use of deadly force by a cop? Hopefully, the problem with all of this is becoming obvious.

Things become extremely unfunny when the result is criminal charges or a citizen bleeding to death on the road. Getting arrested is a pretty serious thing. For many people, it’s one of the most traumatic events in their lives. It’s something that can get out of hand very quickly. At the very least, it’s inconvenient and embarrassing.

Of course, Time brings in some star power to drive its cute little article home:

Freddy’s star, comedian Tom Green, has since tweeted about the news and reached out to Meyers to offer to pay his fine. “If it’s 200 bucks of course I’ll pay it for him, just for the principle of the thing,” Green told the NY Daily News.

It may seem nitpicky to criticize someone for being amused by the fact some poor guy got arrested for not returning a really bad movie, but a culture that can be amused by an arrest is almost certainly a society in which we arrest far too many people. Worse yet, that Time article links to a two-year-old Time article that’s almost identical:

Woman Jailed for Not Returning a Movie She Rented in 2005

If you’re dying to know what movie it was, no need to click through. According to the article, it was the “Jennifer Lopez bomb” called “Monster-in-Law,” and it happened in South Carolina, which raises this important question: what on earth is wrong with the Carolinas? That woman actually spent a night in a South Carolina jail for failing to return the tape to a store that went out of business, and she was given a $2,000 bond, something that would result in many people remaining in custody for the duration of the case.

And yet the article focuses more on humor:

In our opinion, they should probably let Finley off. She already had to suffer through Monster-In-Law nine years ago, and will forever be known as the woman who got arrested for watching one of the worst-rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s hope the judge is forgiving — and that Finley remembered to rewind the tape.

The author gets in a few little wisecracks exploiting the obvious comedic material in the situation, but should we really be joking at all about an armed man taking a human being’s freedom away over an unreturned VHS tape? We live in a society where police choke people to death for selling loose cigarettes. How funny is an arrest for pawning some loosies in light of that? Thankfully, arrests for that particular crime have been on the decline since Eric Garner was killed for allegedly selling untaxed smokes, but what we really need is to see is decline in arrests for that down to zero and the same for all sorts of other things as well.

An arrest isn’t a joke. As long as we’re laughing about arrests, we’re ignoring the real impact it has on people’s lives in the best case scenario, the life-changing or life-destroying consequences it can have in the worst, and the fact it isn’t usually wealthy white folks bearing the brunt of all the stupid little things that give cops the ability to deprive us of our liberty.

When you think about it that way, stories like those in the Carolinas really aren’t so droll anymore.

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  • Aaron
    25 March 2016 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Oh, trust me… there’s plenty wrong with South Carolina.