Earlier this week, the City Room blog of the New York Times ran a story about a man who was being hassled here in the Mike Bloomberg police state of New York City for drinking a beer on his stoop.
First of all, open container laws are always some of the most intrusive and stupid laws on the books in any county they exist. They’re a waste of time, and a colossal waste of police resources. I’ll let Major Bunny Colvin explain in three of the best minutes of scripted television:
Well, Brooklyn Law student Andrew Rausa figured he didn’t need a paper bag to enjoy a beer while sitting on his stoop on July 4th. When the officers rolled up to hassle him — on the very birthday of freedom in this country — Rausa figured he had the law on his side.
Rausa answered a few questions from Above the Law about his fight to quash tyranny and a $25 fine….
In case you missed the long and the short of it, Rausa and friends were enjoying some beers on his stoop in Brooklyn, behind a gate. Officers in an unmarked car rolled up and gave them summonses. Rausa protested, using things like facts and reason, but the cop was unmoved:
Meanwhile, Mr. Rausa, who will enter his third year at Brooklyn Law School this fall, had pulled out his iPhone to study the New York administrative code, which defines a public place as one “to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access, including, but not limited to,” a park, sidewalk or beach. Exceptions include drinking at a block party or “similar function for which a permit has been obtained” or places with liquor licenses.
Holding his phone, Mr. Rausa approached the officer, who had returned to his car, and said that because he was sitting on a private stoop behind a gate, he was not breaking the law.
“I don’t care what the law says, you’re getting a summons,” the officer said before rolling up his window, according to Mr. Rausa.
Instead of just paying the $25 fine, Rausa and his friends have decided to fight:
“My issue,” Mr. Rausa said, “is not some yuppie, I-think-I’m-above-the-law issue. It’s the fact that I brought to the attention of the police officer that he was not in the right and he was not receptive at all.”
One of the best things about going to law school is knowing your rights. But knowing them and acting on them are two different things. If the cop had rolled up on me like that, I might have felt that the officer was wrong, but I’m not sure I would have gone waving my iPhone in his face. In fact, in this city, I probably wouldn’t even have reached for my phone. These cops can be a bit trigger happy.
I asked Rausa if he was afraid that confronting the officers would “escalate” the situation and put his safety at risk. Here’s what he told us:
Despite approaching the officers in the most polite manner I could muster, I was well aware that it was their word against mine if things got ugly. That said, law school has ingrained in me, like I’m sure it has for many others, an inability to sit by idly when something unjust is transpiring. When the officer said, “I don’t care what the law says, you’re getting a summons” I realized the issue was no longer the law itself, and then I backed off, realizing the court, not the street, was the appropriate venue to discuss the law. But I was never afraid. Maybe it is an unrealistic world view to have, but I’ve always believed that the truth eventually wins out. I’m still convinced that is what will eventually happen here.
But even if Rausa wasn’t afraid of getting pummeled by NYPD, surely he’s worried about what current and future employers might think about this defense. Just paying the $25 fine would have made this go away quietly, but Rausa doesn’t see it that way. He thinks having an uncontested blemish on his record is the bigger long-term negative:
My concern that the incident would show up on potential employer background checks was one of the motivating factors in fighting this summons. It’s my belief that we weren’t violating the law. I may have been able to swallow the cognitive dissonance and save myself time by pleading guilty if the only cost was the $25 fee. But there was no way I was going to force myself, for years, to explain away admitted guilt on a baseless charge. I’m confident that my current employer and any future employers will see the stand I’ve taken as a principled one and respect my resolve.
At the very least, Rausa has shown some ninja esquire skills when it comes to pulling up statutes. The article says that Rausa brought up code on the spot. He wasn’t using a fancy app, just good old fashioned Googling:
I initially did a general Google search. Something to the extent of “NYC drinking in public law.” Once I got the NYC administrative code, I plugged that back into Google, opened up the first reputable looking website that listed the law, and did some statutory interpretation before approaching the officers.
Again, if law school teaches you nothing else, it should teach you what your own damn rights are. Whether or not Rausa is in the legal right is for a judge to decide, but either way, we don’t need cops harassing citizens who are peaceably minding their own business.
Instead of busting people drinking on a stoops in Brooklyn, I’m sure there is something better police officers could be doing with their time on July 4th.
A Legal Fight Over Sipping Beer on a Stoop [City Room / New York Times]