For those who like to pretend that the government can be trusted to do the right thing, I offer this Houston Chronicle article about black drivers driving through the town of Tenaha, Texas, near the Louisiana line, being pulled over and shaken down:
Law enforcement authorities in this East Texas town of 1,000 people seized property from at least 140 motorists between 2006 and 2008, and, to date, filed criminal charges against fewer than half, according to a San Antonio Express-News review of court documents.
Virtually anything of value was up for grabs: cash, cell phones, personal jewelry, a pair of sneakers, and often, the very car that was being driven through town. Some affidavits filed by officers relied on the presence of seemingly innocuous property as the only evidence that a crime had occurred.
[Shelby County District Attorney Lynda Kay Russell] made legal agreements with some individuals that her office would not file criminal charges so long as the property owner waived all rights to the valuables.
According to the lawsuit (PDF of complaint) filed in U.S. District Court, officers would stop non-white motorists for no legal reason, order them out of their cars, search their cars, call out dogs to search the cars, find nothing, interrogate the motorists, ask them if they had any money, seize the money, arrest them for “money laundering”, and then threaten to hold them prisoner and prosecute them for money laundering unless they would agree to forfeit the money.
Let’s try to count the felonies being committed here. Theft, robbery, aggravated robbery, extortion, bribery, kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping — I count seven and I’m sure I’m missing a few. None of them will be prosecuted, of course, because the actors hold public office.
Surely there’s a good policy reason for allowing these cops and this prosecutor to do things that would land an ordinary citizen in prison for a long long time?
Tenaha Mayor George Bowers, 80, defended the seizures, saying they allowed a cash-poor city the means to add a second police car in a two-policeman town and help pay for a new police station. “It’s always helpful to have any kind of income to expand your police force,” Bowers said.
The old “it allows us to expand our police force” rationale, often invoked in favor of speed traps (and in a way this is a really ambitious speed trap). That’s very nice, but it raises this question: why does a town half the size of Mayberry need two Barney Fifes, much less two patrol cars? Is a larger police force its own justification? Is it like the anti-cocaine ad from the 80s, “We jack travelers, so we can buy more patrol cars, so we can jack more travelers …”
Well, no …
Local police, [Mayor Bowers] said, must take aggressive action to stem the drug trade that flows through town via U.S. 59. “No doubt about it. (Highway 59) is a thoroughfare that a lot of no-good people travel on. They take the drugs and sell it and take the money and go right back into Mexico,” said Bowers, who has been Tenaha’s mayor for 54 years.
Of course! When the government in a racist sinkhole of a Texas town is caught behaving like a third-world warlord, setting up a roadblock and demanding tribute from people passing through its territory, what better justification than the War on Drugs? America’s voters are perfectly content to give up their freedom, to say nothing of the freedom of their friends and neighbors, to support a metaphorical war against an imaginary enemy.
The legislature is talking about forfeiture reform, but it seems to me that the People hold the immediate solution to this particular problem: if you must drive through Shelby County, Texas, don’t spend any money. Tank up in Garrison to the south or Carthage to the north. Don’t buy gas at Hooker Texaco or Swint’s Self Services. Don’t eat at the Snack Shack or the Chicken House or the Whistle Stop Restaurant. Don’t hesitate to stop at one of those businesses — to use the restroom, for example — but don’t spend a dime.
Let the businesses in Shelby County join the innocent motorists in paying for the greed of their government, and they will change it.