Civil asset forfeiture and race

I have mentioned before the menace of civil asset forfeitures, where police can seize the assets of people even before they are convicted of any crime and make it well nigh impossible for them to get it back even if they are completely innocent. This has become just another way for local jurisdictions to raise money to fund their operations, particularly their police departments. Kevin Drum discusses a new study that looks at which particular jurisdictions are more likely to indulge in this practice. The result should come as no surprise to those who have been following this issue.

Alex Tabarrok, Michael Makowsky, and Thomas Stratmann have a new paper out that will, unfortunately surprise no one. The subject is civil asset forfeitures, where police get to keep money any they find in (for example) your car even if there’s no evidence that it’s drug related and nobody is convicted of a crime. They just declare the money suspicious, and that’s that.

In some states, police departments get to keep the money they seize. These are the states the authors look at. Then they look at one other variable: whether the local government (city or county) is running a deficit. Guess what they find? More civil asset forfeitures! Are you shocked!

The more black (and Hispanic) an area is, the more likely it is that strapped local governments will turn to civil asset forfeitures to raise revenue. But the more white an area is, the less likely they are to increase the use of civil asset forfeitures.

The lesson here is simple: white boys have daddies and their daddies have lawyers. It’s best not to mess with them. Just stick with harassing the black kids who can’t really fight back and who nobody cares about anyway. That’s just smart policing, my friend.

Yes, indeed.


  1. ridana says

    I was thinking about this just yesterday, while being amazed that Manafort had to give up some of his money and properties in his plea bargain, and was musing that asset forfeiture is pretty much never leveraged against rich white people, even when they are convicted of crimes -- unless they’re outright Mafia.

    About the only time rich white people are on the receiving end is if they have land the government wants. They might just kill you over that (harder to use your wealth to sue them if you’re dead). Ask Donald Scott. Oh wait, you can’t, they killed him in his own home.

    There have been some changes to the laws in some states to curb this a little, but abuses still happen every day, and I still can’t fathom how the courts ever ruled that this is constitutional. Saying the property is guilty but has no standing to defend itself is probably the most twisted legal logic since corporations are legally people with religious beliefs. But that’s how you get court cases titled “United States v One 1980 Red Ferrari” or “United States v 835 Seventh St.”

  2. says

    I was distressed to hear someone crowing about how Manafort’s asset seizure was going to cover the cost of the Mueller investigation. Basically, Manafort was shaken down with the threat of life in prison, or a good shearing and he’ll still have plenty of money for $15,000 jackets.

    Next up: “freelance police”

  3. ridana says

    #2 @ Marcus
    I hear what you’re saying, but I just can’t help feeling glad to see laws normally reserved to squeeze the poor being applied to the rich for once (if that happened more often, maybe the laws would get changed). There’s also the difference that he’s actually been convicted of crimes which, as I understand it, enhanced that wealth, so the shakedown is being applied in the way it was originally (ostensibly) intended, right or wrong, to take the profits of crime from the criminal. If you made millions from your criminal activities, why should you get to keep that? And if Manafort weren’t rich, he’d be doing the time. I guess I just have less empathy for people whose money allows them options regarding their punishment.

    My main outrage is that law enforcement shakes people down who’ve been convicted of nothing, have no evidence against them, who often aren’t even arrested or indicted, or even have anything to do with the crime that supposedly took place.

  4. says

    Manafort is still quite rich.
    His investments will grow while he’s in the vacation house and he can come out and be living high on the hog as soon as Trump is dead. Because Trump will never ever forget to make Manafort suffer. He’s probably texting Putin asking for a sample of novichok.

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