You may have heard of for-proft prisons, also called private prisons, but have you heard about policing for profit? I remember a time when cops proudly branded the motto “protect and serve” on the sides of squad cars and police stations. I wonder when that was amended to be “to protect our profit margins by serving us your property?”

This is not a new problem, it goes back years with some local police pioneering the practice as early as 2006. Tenaha, Texas, was one of these pioneers and recently lost a major class action lawsuit to the countless victims of highway robbery by the police. State records show the use of asset forfeiture in Texas going back to 2001, with totals seized in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Federally, the Department of Justice claimed $1.8 billion in assets in their asset forfeiture fund. This fund has had time to build up, a good 24 years that we have records, and over that time the Feds seized over $12 billion in property, largely related  to the war on drugs. But it goes back even further than that, all the way to the founding of this country; the 4th and 5th Amendments were created to protect we citizens from abuses like these that were commonplace under the crown. Now we have come full circle and are left with robbers marauding our highways in the employ of “the crown” of the imperial presidency.

You may begin seeing a common thread developing here, black and Latino people are stopped by (almost exclusively) white cops, and forced to turn over all kinds of personal possessions not related to crimes, especially since they are innocent of crimes. Take this case out of Tenaha, the individuals stopped were not breaking any laws; contrary to popular belief it is legal to possess a pipe (for tobacco or as a gift, like in this case). When they get to the police station they see a pile of watches, jewelry, and other valuables; that sounds like a Robin Hood-esque pile of plunder but perversed and reversed stealing from the unfortunate to give to privileged white cops.

I normally don’t use Privilege Talk, as I feel its often counter-productive, but the ability to legally rob someone under threat of pain or imprisonment is certainly a privilege, and it was clearly abused. Is abused, this isn’t over because one class action lawsuit was won. There are local police and federal agents across the country still doing this. A major raid of more than a dozen state-legal dispensaries and two private residences just happened in Denver, Colorado. While on paper the federal and local agents involve claim it is a hunt for connections to Colombian drug cartels, it is also an informal reason to confiscate over $2 million in jewelry and money as well as another million in cannabis plants. As someone who works in the medical cannabis industry I want the bad players out of the game more than anyone. Unfortunately it does sound like there are people with cartel ties in Denver, but more unfortunately it sounds like Feds used this as a blank check to smash and grab all over the place.

This issue of civil asset forfeiture feeds into related issues of racial profiling and stop and frisk abuse, like this extreme case in Florida which is also resulting in a class action lawsuit against an abusive local police force. Yet again it is mainly white cops harassing and abusing non-white folks.

Read for yourself:

“Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in four years. He’s been searched more than 100 times. And arrested and jailed 56 times. Despite his long rap sheet, Sampson, 28, has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of marijuana. Miami Gardens police have arrested Sampson 62 times for one offense: trespassing. Almost every citation was issued at the same place: the 207 Quickstop, a convenience store on 207th Street in Miami Gardens. But Sampson isn’t loitering. He works as a clerk at the Quickstop.”

I’m not sure what about that one can consider police doing their job. It sounds like they have a vendetta against Mr. Sampson and the 207 Quikstop. It wasn’t just Earl though, police regularly harassed countless customers of the 207 Quikstop, often abusing “Terry” stops to do it. A Terry stop is a stop and frisk meant to search someone suspected of committing a crime for a weapon. New York City police are famous for abusing this to practice to make NY’s legally decriminalized cannabis still illegal as long as you are poor and not white. In fact, the situation in NYC is so dire the courts have stepped in to block the practice.

This is not why we have police, they were meant to protect and serve the public, not brutalize and rob them. This is why it warms my heart to see more discussions of community policing and see police forces actively implement community policing policies.

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