“John Oliver on Civil Forfeiture”: a primer on municipal crime

I’m always grateful to Kevin Underhill, Lowering the Bar maestro, for anything he posts.  I’m especially grateful today because he gives us a long, brilliant and incomparably hilarious video from John Oliver’s TV show, in which Oliver declaims sardonically on the legal topic of ‘civil’ forfeiture and then merrily continues on to give us a line-up of the − what can I call it? crimes, yes, that’s what I can call it − committed by cops and prosecutors, i.e., honorable public servants, who seize property from people who have not committed crimes, yet…

Do. Not. Give. The. Property. Back. Ever.

In fact, Oliver is particularly hilarious when he shows us how police departments spend the money they ripped off from perfectly innocent people. (On a margarita-making machine?)

I’m especially glad to start this post with the John Oliver video, because it’s so damn funny it’ll jolly you up before you start screaming and pulling your hair out. Which you will do when you read two powerful articles, one from the New York Times, and the other from the New Yorker delving deeply into how civil forfeiture laws have re-established the lawless Wild West all over the country.

And you might want to re-route any car trips you intend to take through areas of the country nailed in these articles. Unless, of course, you’re feeling generous and won’t mind involuntarily financing a margarita machine for the local police precinct.

In fact, Oliver has a video comment from a marvelous writer, Sarah Stillman, whose New Yorker article, “Taken,” introduced me to this Kafkaesque warp in our local justice systems. (At least, I’m hoping it’s only local.) And, as a cute reference, if you watch the Oliver video to the end, you’ll see clips from a “new” “Law & Order,” with cameos from a couple of L&O stars.

So, here’s the first link: John Oliver on Civil Forfeiture – Lowering the Bar.

And here’s Sarah Stillman’s mind-blowing article: Taken – The New Yorker.

Campbell Robertson’s New York Times piece In a Mississippi Jail, Convictions and Counsel Appear Optional – NYTimes.com. is not directly about civil forfeiture, but when “justice” systems imprison people without charging them with crimes, without giving them lawyers and setting “steep and ‘arbitrary’ bail amounts…with no consideration of a person’s ability to pay,” it amounts to the same thing. Except the “property” being seized and held indefinitely, for virtual ransom, are human beings.

And then, of course, we have the recent video showing a Brooklyn man thrown up against a fence by an NYPD cop who searched him and, as the video apparently shows, took money from the man’s pocket. When the man, who wasn’t guilty of anything, asked for his money back (you can hear him clearly on the video), the cop pepper-sprayed him and then pepper-sprayed the man’s sister when she protested.

The money wasn’t returned and wasn’t vouchered by the cop. Indeed, the NYPD says the cop didn’t take the man’s claimed $1300 at all, but did voucher $65, which was allegedly taken from someone else.

Here’s the New York Times, with video, on this situation: Video of Officer Accused of Theft Prompts Inquiry – NYTimes.com.

And P.S. Here is the relevant portion of the Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution, with my bolding:

14th Amendment

Amendment XIV

Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


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