Civil asset forfeiture sounds like a a dry legal term, but it has a deeper impact on people’s lives and our justice system than you might expect. It’s a practice that threatens property rights, rewards discriminatory policing, and has interesting and unexpected connections with the violations of constitutional rights that have come to define the “war on terror.” Civil asset forfeiture refers to the process of law enforcement seizing property — like cars, money, or houses — suspected of being involved in, or paid for by, illicit activities. This occurs without a charge or conviction because bizarrely, civil forfeiture law names the property itself as the defendant in the lawsuit, rendering the owner’s innocence irrelevant. It is difficult if not impossible to challenge civil asset forfeiture, and police disproportionately apply this practice to poor people, immigrants, and people of color who are already disempowered by the legal system.
Posts Tagged ‘racial profiling’
Is an upside down American flag a reasonable indication of criminal activity? What about a group of young Middle Eastern men speaking a non-English language? Does the presence of Muslim women at a shopping mall suggest an intent to commit a crime? Is an artist photographing buildings necessarily a terrorist threat? According to the FBI, these first amendment protected actions are suspicious activities. These are all examples from the summaries of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) acquired by the ACLU and originally produced by the Central California Intelligence Center and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center.
The stated purpose of SARs is to collect information about criminal activity that may be related to “terrorist pre-operational planning,” which can then be shared among the different levels of the government. These reports could be issued by local law enforcement officers or could be the result of tips from the public.
Between October 25 and the 28, an intimidating list of over 150 police departments, federal law enforcement agencies and private corporations participated in a series of militarized war games using the city of Oakland California as if it was their personal playground.
“In past years, Urban Shield has featured hostage-taking scenarios involving animal rights activists, and the bombing of an oil platform by Anarchists. In an interview, Sheriff Ahern said the scenarios are sourced from threats made to law enforcement and government agencies over the past five to ten years that have been documented by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. “Many of those threats have used the formats of anarchy, in the form of white supremacy, of Muslim extremism,” Ahern said. “We simply use threats we’ve received over the last five to ten years that have been documented through our regional intelligence center.” (Eastbay Express)
Every 90 days for the past seven years, the government has acquired the full billing records of every American’s daily telephone calls. Though the use of of secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders, the FBI has forced telecommunications companies to hand over records revealing such details as who individuals call, the length of those phone calls, and the locations of the callers. As the ACLU explains in a new report titled, “Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority,” these secretive, unconstitutional, and ineffective invasions of privacy have become a mainstay in the post-9/11 domestic surveillance enterprise.
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, several significant changes in law and policy have vastly expanded the power of the FBI, enabling it to conduct widespread warrantless surveillance and utilize broad investigative authority. The passage of the Patriot Act and the accompanying secret interpretation of Section 215 have allowed the FBI to spy on Americans and gather an unprecedented amount of information about their personal lives.
On Monday, August 12, New Yorkers won a historic victory with a federal court ruling that the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) use of stop and frisk policing violated the constitution. Judge Shira Scheindlin found the tactic, as had been argued by the plaintiffs and their attorneys, the Center for Constitutional Rights, violated both the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
To remedy the violations of rights that the court found had affected thousands of New Yorkers between 2004 and 2012, the Judge mandated a number of court supervised changes. The order imposes important reforms on the NYPD related to stop and frisk. The court appointed an independent monitor to oversee the process of bringing the NYPD’s tactics in line with the constitution, required trials of officer worn body cameras in each borough and mandated community input into the reform process. Police body worn cameras have shown excellent results reducing the use of force by police officers and complaints against them. In Rialto, California the use of cameras resulted in a 60% drop in the use of force by police officers.
However, to ensure better policing for all New Yorkers, it will still be crucial for the New York City Council to overturn the mayor’s veto on the two bills championed by Communities United for Police Reform. These bills will greatly expand profiling protections to insure that New Yorkers are not targeted by police for their identity and establish an Inspector General for the NYPD. The council is scheduled to vote on the veto override on August 22.
- 8/2, Jennifer Valentino-Devries and Danny Yadron, Wall Street Journal, FBI Taps Hacker Tactics to Spy on Suspects
- 8/2, Michael Shank, Washington Post Opinions, Advertising against Muslims? Not with my tax dollars.
- 8/2, Kevin Johnson and David Jackson, USA Today, Will rising tide of opposition force change in NSA tactics?
- 8/2, Adam Liptak, New York Times, Court Rulings Blur the Line Between a Spy and a Leaker
- 8/1, Lesley Clark, McClatchy Newspapers, No breakthrough evident on Guantanamo detainees after Obama, Yemen’s president meet
- 8/1, Mark Felsenthal and Patricia Zengerle, Reuters, Obama open to making changes to surveillance, lawmakers say
- 8/1, Shahid Buttar, People’s Blog for the Constitution, Cracks widen in the armor of the surveillance state
- 7/29, Staff, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW Calls on DOJ to Investigate DNI Clapper for Lying to Congress
Tuesday, July 23, was an exciting day for grassroots organizers on the west coast fighting against overbroad national security policies that extend to immigration enforcement. Coalitions in San Francisco County and King County (which includes the city of Seattle) both moved forward with legislation that would curtail the participation of local law enforcement in mass deportation.
Local action is particularly important as “immigration reform,” in the form of severe border militarization and increased enforcement, moves through Congress.
In King County, the committee on Law, Justice, Health, and Human Services held its first public meeting on a policy proposed by celebrated civil rights leader King County Councilmember Larry Gossett. The room was packed with supporters of the new policy.
The proposal, based on the language of a policy adopted by Santa Clara County, California in 2010, would limit county compliance with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to those inmates who have been convicted of violent or serious felony. The hearing made the need for the legislation, and the huge amount of support for it, very clear.
As Janet Napolitano steps down as Secretary of Homeland Security, President Obama has looked for a new candidate to fill the position. Raymond Kelly, Police Commissioner of New York, has been cited as a possible successor to Napolitano, but his appointment would likely exacerbate the profiling and surveillance of Muslims throughout the country.
A Secretary of Homeland Security should be able to protect this country from true acts of terrorism and harm without eroding the civil liberties of American citizens of any faith, but Kelly’s possible appointment puts this possibility into question.
Raymond Kelly served as police commissioner for the NYPD from 1992 to 1994, and again from 2002 to the present. During his second term, New York City was shaken by the attacks of 9/11, and (speaking from my own observations as a native New Yorker) stricken by a xenophobic, anti-Muslim paranoia.
Kelly fed this paranoia, developing the Demographics Unit of the NYPD (now the target of a constitutional challenge), which was specifically designed to map and track Muslim Americans in the Tri-state area absent any suspicion of wrongdoing. The unit did not notify local law enforcement or elected officials when the surveillance took place outside of New York City, essentially subverting local law by fiat.
- 7/19, Charlie Savage, New York Times, In Major Ruling, Court Orders Times Reporter to Testify
- 7/18, Spencer Ackerman, Guardian (UK), White House stays silent on renewal of NSA data collection order
- 7/18, Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor, Snowden leaks give new life to lawsuits challenging NSA surveillance programs
- 7/18, Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, Senate Panel Clears Way for Floor Vote on F.B.I. Director Pick
- 7/18, David Sirota, Salon, Holder’s amazing anti-drone war speech
- 7/18, Katherine Jacobsen, Christian Science Monitor, FISA 101: 10 key dates in the evolution of NSA surveillance
- 7/18, Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, Prominent Democrats Are Now Comfortable With Racial and Ethnic Profiling
- 7/17, Billy House, National Journal, House GOP Leaders Hope to Block Amendments to Limit NSA Surveillance
- 7/18, Stephen Holmes, London Review of Books, What’s in it for Obama?
- 7/10, Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, FBI nominee Comey signed memo allowing waterboarding
- 7/10, Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, Senate Set to Confirm New FBI Head Who OK’d Waterboarding, Defends Mass Spying, Indefinite Detention
- 7/9, Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, A Patriot Act History Lesson: How Warnings Were Mocked in the Senate
- 7/9, Larry Abramson, NPR, Former FISA Judge Questions Court’s Approval Of Surveillance
- 7/9, Timothy B. Lee, Washington Post, Could the Supreme Court stop the NSA?
- 7/9, Hayes Brown, ThinkProgress, Lawmakers Call For End To ‘Inhumane’ Force-Feeding At Guantanamo Bay
- 7/9, Matthew Harwood, The American Conservative, The Surveillance State Attacks the First Amendment
- 7/8, Alison Frankel, Reuters, Do surveillance court’s secret rulings violate U.S. Constitution?
- 7/8, David Kravets, Wired, Court Rejects State Secrets Defense in Dragnet Surveillance Case