The story of Robin Hood is about a man who steals from individuals and gives to others yet his character is looked at as one with virtue. How can a man who steals be considered virtuous? The reason is because we are told that the men he stole from were the real bad guys and that Robin is the purveyor of justice. This same narrative is prevalent today in the form of civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture allows police to confiscate possessions from individuals just based on suspicion alone of the possessions being involved with illegal activity. This means that officers can legally take your money, your vehicle, your jewelry, or any other possessions they deem to be connected to illegal activity without a crime being committed. They don’t need a warrant. They don’t need a judge. After they take your possessions the burden of proof now lies with the victim to show the items weren’t connected to illegal activity. This means paying for a lawyer and court costs with the potential to STILL lose the case and their possessions.
Officers and agents tell the American public that they are Robin Hood stealing from the real bad guys to support themselves, the good guys. This is how they convince the public to allow them to commit legal theft. We read of stories about corrupt officers abusing their power and we applaud when they are brought to justice but when a law abiding citizen has his entire life savings literally stolen from him by the government many don’t even bat an eye. What happened to due process? What happened to being a nation of laws?
Some states, like New Mexico, have recognized the potential and actual abuse of asset forfeiture by law enforcement and passed very restrictive state laws. The problem is that while state level governments may try to curve the issue there is a glaring loophole that local and federal law enforcement use to keep their illicit profits booming. The loophole is called equitable sharing which allows federal agencies, not held to individual state restrictions, to bypass those laws, continue to cease property under civil asset forfeiture, and then funnel the property back to the local authorities. So instead of our government being okay with legal theft they’ve decided to step it up a notch and enforce legal racketeering. In our current political atmosphere it can be hard to hear numbers like $5 billion in seized assets and still feel your stomach turn but here is another way to understand just how out of control this issue is becoming. In 2014 the total amount of burglary losses in the entire country came to $3.9 billion dollars according to FBI reports. Even when you account for seized assets being returned to victims, such as Ponzi scheme cases, and remove those dollars the federal government still raked in over $4.5 billion and this still doesn’t even account for local and state forfeiture amounts.
Some states like, my home state of Indiana, are trying to do the right thing by introducing legislation to not only close the federal loophole but also to require convictions of individuals in order to carry out asset forfeiture. Others, like Arizona, are ramping up their efforts of this disgusting practice by introducing legislation that allows police to use asset forfeiture against violent protestors. The language in the bill was so vague that a protestor needn’t even become violent but only be suspected of possibly becoming violent to become a victim of the state. It also included language to go after those who organize a protest that turns violent or damages property to suffer from this law. This means your political enemy could plan a legitimate protest. You could then plant a couple of miscreants among the protestors to cause commotion, violence, or destruction of property at the protest and the organizer, whether they were present or not, could have their assets at risk and even be charged under the RICO statute. Thankfully the Arizona house shot down the bill that passed in the Senate but just it’s introduction is setting a terrible precedence of what’s possible for lawmakers to introduce.
This ideological abuse from government makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Milton Friedman. He said, “The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.” What he means by this is that we, the people, must use our voice in the form of voting to pressure politicians to making the best decisions. We must become so opposed to this issue that politicians will believe their reelection to be impossible if they don’t change the current circumstances. We must tell every neighbor, every friend, every relative of the consequences of this law. We must tell the world about Tony Jalali, the 130 victims from ‘Funk Night’, Lyndon McLellan, Vu Do, and the countless other stories of citizens being abused by our current police state. We must make every politician know that these laws will not be tolerated and those who support the abuses without demanding real reform will not remain in office.