Cop Shops and Civil Forfeiture Scandals

civil forfeitureNew Orleans    One of our continuing definitions of humanity has to be our ability to still be surprised and shocked at injustice.   Reading an article by Sarah Stillman in the New Yorker entitled “Taken” about the criminal scams being pulled off right and left, high and low by police departments to seize the money, property, and valuables of innocent people and their relatives without any charges, investigation, or never mind was incredible.  I was left over and over saying to myself, “How could this happen here?!?”

            One of the more dramatic stories was about a scam being pulled by the city attorney and police in a community called Tenaha along US highway 59 that runs north and south in East Texas.  I’ve been through there many a time, particularly in the old days driving from Little Rock to Houston.  You can’t avoid it.

            Turns out if you were in a rental car, were not lily white, and looked like an easy mark because you were a working stiff or whatever, odds were good that you might be pulled over on the least excuse and shaken down for every dollar and item of value you might have on a “cash-for-freedom” deal.  They didn’t mind threatening to take your children as well.  The cops and the city attorney would put you over a barrel saying you could be caught in an endless legal grist mill or you could let them have what they were ready to steal.  Oh, do you think I’m exaggerating here?   In fact I’m probably understating the case, because a bunch of these victims finally tied up together with a local attorney and won a class action suit ordering the cops to stop all of this.  Don’t get me wrong.   There wasn’t justice, because none of them got their money or belongings back, but at least some folks in the future might be able to more safely drive through Tenaha.

            But they were not alone.  Stillman went through a depressing list of police departments at all levels that are using civil forfeiture to pad their budgets, sometimes their pockets, and fill holes in department spending for real police work.  Philadelphia is on this list, so is Maricopa County, but why list them individually, it seems like most all of them are in on it.   Only North Carolina has now passed a law saying that civil forfeiture cannot be invoked until guilt is actually proven. 

            This kind of law was originally intended to insure that drug dealers, the Madoffs, and others wouldn’t get away with the filthy lucre from their crimes, but now it’s a train wreck out of control.  And, not surprisingly, disproportionately the victims are the young and the elderly, Latinos, African-Americans and lower income and working people.

            There ought to be a law and one that works within our fundamental beliefs that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and that means the police and others cannot steal from them until a court determines their guilt.   How hard is that for our governments and their agents to live by?

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Whistleblowers and Wiki-leaks: Hater Talk, Half-Step Walk

New Orleans Reading the long story in The New Yorker recently, it was clear that Thomas A. Drake was no dream employee at National Security Agency (NSA), but it was even more obvious that trying to convict him of the Espionage Act was ridiculous, so seeing him plead out on a misdemeanor deal is probably largely an example of his inability to muster the resources to weather a trial and embarrass the Obama Administration.  I’ll be darned if I’ll read all the gee-whiz stories about Sarah Palin’s emails, which I have to bet are 24000 pages of the paper pushing done by governors in small states which make them do crazy things like run like the dickens for vice-president.   All of this makes me wonder what’s happening with Julian Assange and Wikileaks, who were last year’s scourge of society and humankind?

Thankfully, Assange has finally gotten the message that if he wants to save the value of Wikileaks and keep his own keister out of the calaboose, he needs to finally put a sock in it and try to hide some of his more obnoxious and paranoid personality quirks (which is not to say some of his paranoia is not warranted!).  Smartly, Wikileaks and Assange have now expanded their partnerships with even more media outlets around the world, which has meant that now a long time after the original dumps of information we are still reading citations almost daily somewhere in the world to Wikileaks.  It is categorically true that their movement of this information to the press and the people has been an invaluable resource all over the world, and one that continues to keep on giving.

The New York Times seems prissy and hypocritical in still wanting to use soon departing executive editor Bill Keller’s ham-handed and mean-spirited ad hominem slaps at Assange to give cover and comfort to all manner of forces confused over the difference between the messenger and the message.  Almost daily I read somewhere in the Times a reference to information they have gotten from Wikileaks, so who cares if they want to eat dinner with Assange and how often he showered?  Are they on the high school football team, still looking for a way to make fun of the class nerd or what?

Even more hypocritical is the continued savage curtailment of whistleblowing,  news leaks, and public spirited public employees with the bullyboy bluster of the Justice Department and its irresponsible prosecutions of anyone committed to transparency and truth.  There are hardly any other areas other than immigration and foreclosure modification policies where what the Administration says is so different than what it does.

I don’t see any apology coming soon to Wikileaks from our government or others much less news outlets with diminished capacity who are relying on Wikileaks like lifeblood, but is it too much to expect that some of them might at least finally say, “thanks!”

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