AG Holder Ends (Some) Asset Seizures

This just in from Ars Technica: Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Department of Justice would be stopping a local and police from participating in a program called ‘Equitable Sharing’ in which the police departments would be able to directly from assets seized during police operations, often from people who haven’t been charged.

Bitcoin Warrior exists partly because of the growing abuses of the government and its various instruments of control. We fully believe in the need for a government of, by, and for the people – but we have also watched as the ability of regular people to influence the government has been eroded over the last 40 years. Civil forfeiture was something started ostensibly as a way for police to fight drug kingpins by confiscating cars, houses, planes, or what-have-you. Some or all of the proceeds of those forfeitures went back into police coffers ostensibly to allow the war on drugs to be funded on the backs of the drug lords themselves.

The funny thing is that under American law, the people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the property could be considered guilty until proved innocent. That meant that police could confiscate cash, cars, or anything and the victims of this legal form of theft would have to go through an inconvenient, expensive, and purposely drawn-out process if they wanted their stuff back. Many people, understandably, give up.

If asset seizures had only been used for their originally described purpose, we probably would hear little about them. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to put a system like this in place and not have it abused. There are now many stories of people all across the country who have had their property improperly seized for what appears to be police trying to pad the budget of their departments. Some department apparently target out-of-state license plates to confiscate large amounts of cash drivers might be carrying on the theory that only drug dealers carry such sums. One such story is of a Las Vegas winner driving home after his vacation, another is someone who had gotten a loan from his brother to open a business. These confiscations can be life crippling if the cops win big.

The worst effect of this program is that it has made the police predators preying on the populous they are sworn to serve and protect. At their best, the police are an active and familiar part of the community they serve, and who use their police powers with discretion and understanding. This Mayberry view of policing is probably always impossible to achieve, but the incentivizing of police to view the people they interact with as a profit center drives a wedge between the police and the people to the point where people would prefer not to deal with the police except in the direst of emergencies.

Holder stopping police participation in this program is a nice gesture, but is really too little, too late. At this point, many people have already been enculturated to mistrust the police, the most visible form of the government that people deal with on a daily basis. Further, this is merely the decision of a sitting Attorney General – which can be easily reversed at any time by himself or his successors. Even further, this is merely the federal form of this program, which does nothing to touch the many state and local civil forfeiture laws that on the books. A nice gesture, indeed, but I’m not exactly getting my dancing shoes out just yet.

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The fact of the matter is that the existence of a this program itself and the many others like it speak to just how far the pendulum has swung to a too-powerful government. At Bitcoin Warrior, we are proponents of Bitcoin because it takes control of money out of the hands of governments and puts it back in the hands of each and every one of us. It is our hope that Bitcoin and a hundred or thousand other projects like it will start to decentralize all the areas of our lives so that we will no longer have to fear, and fight, against aggressive and self-interested centralized control. First it was decentralized information through the rise of the internet, next it will be decentralized money, then who knows? Decentralized energy, politics, education, etc.

One can only dream.