According to this excellent article by Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker, now you can find the third world shakedown right in America The Beautiful! And as everything that is rotten and corrupt in this magnificent land (corporations are people, the NSA can read your emails, lobbying, you name it), it is perfectly legal. It is called civil forfeiture. It was originally designed to fight drug cartels and organized crime, but ever enterprising, some police departments in some states have decided to expand it to regular, innocent, hardworking people. Because isn't that the way of all progress?
In a nutshell:
In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.Lately, with all these newfangled laws designed to protect us from sundry terrorist evildoers, the US is starting to adopt not only the surreal magical realism that is endemic to developing countries (Texas vs. One Pearl Necklace?), but a frightening Orwellian and Kafkaesque degree of absurdity. We should all be very concerned.
One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence.
At least in Mexico we have equal opportunity: everybody can be a victim of the shakedown. The rich, because they're rich, and the poor because they're poor. Everybody pays. Not in the US, no siree Bob. As befits the cradle of unbridled capitalism, the rich here are left untouched, no matter their wrongdoings. It's the poor, black and brown who get shaken down the most.
Do you want to take a guess at what states are vying for the world championship in the art of the police shakedown? I'll give you a hint, it's not Vermont. Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. (you know, where the Capitol is) and the underfunded police department in Detroit. By law, the loot goes directly to fund law enforcement, which is a great incentive for police departments to cast a wider net and relieve innocent people of their possessions. As for the kids I mentioned above, the notorious police ring of Tenaha, Texas, has a cash for freedom deal in which they threaten to remove your children from your care unless you give all your stuff up. A termagant called Lynda K. Russell, the racist, corrupt attorney general of Shelby County, Tx, is the one allowing the shakedowns of people to happen.
One difference between Mexico and here, is that at least here people can still find some legal recourse, even if an expert calls U.S. civil forfeiture cases, "the Guantanamo of the legal system". The article introduces several admirable lawyers that have taken up cases to help people fight this outrageous injustice.
I moved from Mexico 21 years ago thinking that I was moving from the developing world into the apex of progress and civilization. I never expected that I would feel like I was back in a third world country, or worse, but I see evidence of the US slipping into moral, economic and political decay every single day.