Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Civil Forfeiture (HBO) – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
While the attached presentation is certainly humorous, the underlying realities of legalized plunder are all too real and should be recognized as offensively unethical by even the most detached observer. While this is a comedy sketch, please watch the video in its entirety as it is nonetheless very anecdotally informative.
The concept of legalized plunder, if masquerading under different names and varying contexts, is not a new one in history. Indeed, such utter contempt for private property, due process, and outright law and order is a hallmark of Big Government tyranny, and is most often presented under a cloak of legitimacy that is both illogical and immoral. This blatantly lawless behavior represents a gross corruption of the very purpose that presupposes an institution of government in the first place, as classical liberal thinker Frederic Bastiat pointed out in The Law (1850): “So far from being able to oppress the people, or to plunder their property, even for a philanthropic end, its mission is to protect the people, and to secure to them the possession of their property.”
Bastiat further goes on to describe very simply how legalized plunder, as in this case, can be recognized:
But how is [legal plunder] to be distinguished? Very easily. See whether the law takes from some persons that which belongs to them, to give to others what does not belong to them. See whether the law performs, for the profit of one citizen, and, to the injury of others, an act that this citizen cannot perform without committing a crime.
And finally he points out how this corruption of existence destroys the very legitimacy of the institution of the state, at least as is specifically applied in this case:
[The state] has acted in direct opposition to its proper end; it has destroyed its own object; it has been employed in annihilating that justice which it ought to have established, in effacing amongst Rights, that limit which it was its true mission to respect; it has placed the collective force in the service of those who wish to traffic, without risk and without scruple, in the persons, the liberty, and the property of others; it has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it.
It would be impossible, therefore, to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this – the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.
Modern legal plunder, in this context, is disingenuously presented under a falsehood of persecuting the terrifically failed so-called “War on Drugs.” Unfortunately, these incidents of robbery are growing more and more prevalent. The Washington Post recently reported that forfeiture laws were “meant to decimate drug organizations, but… [have] been used as a routine source of funding for law enforcement at every level” and were being used to generate “‘free floating slush fund[s]'” that “enable[s] police to sidestep the traditional budget process.”
The Washington Post report indicates that nearly $2.5 billion have been seized as part of so-called civil forfeiture laws in America since 2008, with ~81% coming “from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed. … Owners must prove that their money or property was acquired legally in order to get it back.” These unwarranted and unindicted confiscations total nearly 63,000 incidents since 11 September, 2001. The following list just some of the expenditures tied to property seizures reported by the Post:
-a helicopter in Los Angeles ($5 million)
-a “mobile command bus” in Prince George’s County, Maryland (more than $1 million)
-an armored personnel carrier in Douglasville, Georgia ($227,000) (are there Taliban in Douglasville?)
-“Challenge coin” medallions in Brunswick County, North Carolina ($5,300)
-the Sheriff’s Award Banquet expenses in Dona Ana County, New Mexico ($4,600)
-a coffee maker in Randall County, Amarillo, Texas ($637)
-“Sparkles” the Clown (yes, you read that correctly) in Reminderville, Ohio ($225)
As the population generally grows correspondingly more resentful of police and officials in their local communities, the latter need only look at these sorts of policies to get a glimmer of an idea as to why. It also begs the question as to who is more dangerous to the common citizenry – common individual thieves or these highly trained, heavily armed, and organized thieving agents of the state.