It turns out that the police in Tenaha, TX are taking advantage of a loophole in a stupidly-conceived law and committing highway robbery. If you happen to be black or latino, and are passing through Tenaha, you find yourself at great risk of getting pulled over for some nonsensical reason (You were driving too close to the white line, amigo). If you are driving a fancy new car, you are very likely to be dispossessed of the vehicle unless you can prove it was not purchased with the profits from the drug trade. If you happen to have a lot of cash in the car (since Tenaha is on the main road to several casinos in nearby Louisiana, this is fairly likely), the cash will almost certainly be seized by the police. Objecting to these practices results in severe threats against the owners. People get threatened with arrest, long jail times before trial, and their children getting taken from them and given to foster homes.
None of these people seem to get charged with any crime. Ever. And this is all perfectly legal.
During the course of our stupid and long-since-lost War on Drugs, several states passed laws allowing police departments to seize the proceeds of the drug trade. These police organizations could then sell the seized properties to augment their budgets. Many of you reading this may be nodding and asking, “So?”
The folks who wrote those laws neglected to account for the perfidies of human beings. These asset seizures are officially described as civil actions- not criminal. In criminal court, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and that burden is beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil court, the burden of proof is on the person filing the suit, and that burden is a preponderance of evidence. If the police take a few thousand dollars in cash from you, you have to prove it wasn’t part of the drug trade in order to get it back. Worse, you have to prove it to a judge and jury in the police department’s jurisdiction.
We already have p0lice paramilitary units shooting up innocent citizens in the name of the War on Drugs. Now they can legally steal your money or property and you have a very slim chance of ever getting it back.
Let’s take a look at the IVth Amendment to the US Constitution, shall we?
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Maybe it’s just me, but the text of this Amendment seems to make this sort of behavior strictly illegal.
I keep coming back to the Four Boxes. We can deal with this stupidity using the first three Boxes.
SOAPBOX: Talk about it. Write to your Congressweasel and Senator. Write to your state legislators and the Governor. Write to the newspapers and TV stations. If you think the forfeiture isn’t an inherently bad idea, get your legislature to modify it so the seizure can’t take place until after conviction and with a separate legal procedure.
BALLOT BOX: Start petition drives to get the law repealed or amended. Vote against legislators who refuse to change or repeal it. Run for office yourself and campaign against it.
JURY BOX: Sue the motherfuckers! If you know someone this has happened to, support them in suing the police. Don’t just sue to get the property back, sue for punitive damages. If we (the People) make it more expensive to engage in this behavior, perhaps the police will stop seeing the citizens they allegedly serve as sources of funding for next year’s budget.
This stupidity is made possible because people refuse to let go of their puritan ideals. I must prevent someone else from enjoying himself, even if it means giving up my own liberty, property, and life! I am not willing to surrender my liberty, property, or life to prevent Joe Stoner from blazing a doob.
The police have no incentive to stop these seizures themselves. We have put them in the position where they look upon the public they allegedly serve only as a source of funding. We (the People) need to use those first three Boxes to put a stop to this before we are forced to resort to the Fourth Box.
Current status: Disgusted
Current music: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel