Civil Asset Forfeiture continues to be the bane of many an American existence, and a new story that has surfaced in Montana has made this point once again. From Generation Opportunity:
A farmer named Lorenzo Ayala saved up $16,000 and was on his way to spend it on tractor parts. Unfortunately, he never got those tractor parts. The money was confiscated by Montana police.
The police say they smelled cologne and other strong smells in the cluttered car, which they know can be a tactic to cover the smell of drugs. They said the accumulation of trash in a car was also a sign of someone who’s on the road for long periods of time, transporting drugs. They conducted a search of Ayala’s vehicle but didn’t find any drugs. They did find and seize his $16,000 cash.
Is it a crime to have a lot of cash? No, but in 41 states, if the police find a lot of money in your car, they may be able to legally seize it without charging you with a crime. To get your money back, the burden of proof then lies on you to prove that neither you nor your stuff was involved in a crime. According to the Washington Post, police have seized over $2.5 billion since 2001 from people who were not charged with a crime.
The question isn’t whether or not this is an immoral abuse of power by the police – it is. The question is why this type of action was ever allowed to exist in the first place. The answer to that lies in the War on Drugs, enacted by President Nixon back in the 1970s. Nixon was also in office when civil asset forfeiture was put on the books as a means to target drug dealers. This is a practice that has been going on for decades – completely circumventing the 4th Amendment rights of thousands of Americans. So why isn’t there widespread outrage?
The War on Drugs was used as a lever to pry away the rights of U.S. citizens in the name of safety and combating the use of substances that were marketed, branded and advertised by the government as evil. Since 1991, the government has spent in excess of $1Billion convincing America that drugs are bad and that those who use them are on the “wrong” side of the law, of good vs. evil, and embody a danger to everything society stands for. This, of course, is in direct odds with reality, statistics and basic common sense. But the U.S. public bought into it wholeheartedly. After all, why would the government lie to us? And through “public safety” advertising on our TVs nonetheless?
Thus, in the wake of this marketing blitz, the gullible public is accepting of the actions taken by police in the name of defending all that is “good.” Even if there is no evidence, they buy into the argument that suspicion is enough; that if there is nothing to hide, that the benevolent police and state bureaucracy will always have the best interests of the common man in mind and no penalty will be levied on an innocent.
But this is a lie. Those assets are difficult to recoup once taken. Years can pass tied up in legalities and slow moving government agency offices, and even then there is no guarantee. The police are supposed to protect the rest of us against the “wrong” in the world, but in the case of civil asset forfeiture it appears they themselves have no concept of where the border between right and wrong lies.
Most of the public has no idea this type of asset forfeiture can even happen. It’s such a violation of basic rights that it sits outside of the realm of possibility in the minds of millions.
However, there may be hope. With the internet, the game is changing. People are slowly waking up. Politicians are now engaging in debate on this subject. Rand Paul actively campaigned against the new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, based upon her liberal use of civil asset forfeiture. He’s made it a point of his presidential campaign, and it will have to be addressed during mainstream debates.
There is now hope that this most egregious affront to liberty will be purged from society soon. Until then, spread the word, share stories like Lorenzo Ayala’s and fan the flames of outrage.
For a guide to the civil asset forfeiture laws in your state, see the handy map tool provided by Freedomworks.
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