Last Monday morning, Team Emancipate’s Dedan Waciuri and Jaelyn Miller sat together in the Greenville, NC, Pitt County courthouse. They were there for our Don’t Plead to Weed (DPW) campaign. To quote Dedan, the Pitt County judges pass out criminal convictions for possessing small amounts of weed “like hotcakes.” This criminalization disproportionately impacts Black people, resulting in jail time, difficulties finding jobs, and more.

Dedan and Jaelyn were in court that morning, Jaelyn sipping a coffee, just a few days after witnessing one young man without legal representation plead guilty to possession of less than one ounce of marijuana while in court for another case. This day, they were back to spread the word about the DPW campaign so people could know all of their legal options.

Shortly after the judge heard why they were there, he yelled at Jaelyn from the bench, “This is not a cafe – get rid of that coffee!” He told her to hand it to the sheriff and, when she stood up to take the last sip and hand the empty cup to the sheriff, the judge then said, “That’s it – you’re going in sheriff’s custody.” Jaelyn had been drinking coffee in the courtroom for about an hour prior to this occurring. The judge then told the officer to grab Dedan as well even though he had no coffee and had not done anything wrong. In fact, Dedan had only been present in the courtroom for about ten minutes.

This clumsy intimidation tactic shows the lengths to which our “justice” system will go — from petty to sweeping — to uphold carceral punishment as a form of maintaining status quo power relationships. The prospect of a person charged with possessing marijuana having robust legal defense was too much to bear. Thankfully, Jaelyn and Dedan were both eventually released. And they’ll both be back to the courthouse to continue the fight.