Glad to be Agitatin’

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

It is an honor to be asked to guest-blog here during the month of August (thank you Radley!), so let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Eapen Thampy; I am the founder of Americans for Forfeiture Reform (Facebook page here), a nonprofit that advocates for the reformation of America’s asset forfeiture laws to protect individual rights to property, due process, and equal protection. In other words: Private property is important, and the government shouldn’t be able to steal what belongs to you.

I founded Americans for Forfeiture Reform two years ago, when I was living in Columbia, Missouri. Some of you might remember the infamous Kinloch marijuana SWAT raid conducted by the Columbia Police Department; at the time, I lived about 3 miles away, and participated in much of the citizen activism that emerged as a response. Certainly it was a good opportunity to insert asset forfeiture into the discussion on paramilitary policing that followed. I am glad to say that we were able to at least partially succeed in moving the ball: thanks to an engaged and active citizenry, along with a responsive police chief, Columbia does not see the SWAT team deployed for ordinary search warrant service.

During this time, I had begun a project of contacting SWAT victims in Missouri and looking for the funding necessary to enact change on a wider scale. Out of this effort grew the Show-Me Cannabis Regulation initiative effort in Missouri to end marijuana prohibition; we drafted an initiative, organized a board of directors, and began signature collection in late 2011. Unfortunately the signature collection effort would fall short of making the May 6th, 2012 deadline, but the campaign was able to identify and contact thousands of supporters and volunteers in Missouri who had never before been interested or active in politics, which I consider a significant accomplishment. I have no doubt that over the next 4-8 years, we’ll see this effort grow stronger and ultimately succeed.
Over the next month I’ll be writing mostly about asset forfeiture, which I see as the one of the most neglected and misunderstood of any major liberty or governance issue that we face in America today. I’ll also write about marijuana legalization, economics, and other liberty issues that I feel strongly about. You can contact me at Eapen@ForfeitureReform.com if you have any questions, comments, etc.
Cheers!
-Eapen Thampy
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21 Responses to “Glad to be Agitatin’”

  1. #1 |  Mike T | 

    May I ask why you are risking alienating people who might want asset forfeiture reform by tying it to drug policy? It seems to me like trying to argue against the PATRIOT Act mainly by arguing that terrorism is really not that big of a deal rather than arguing that the PATRIOT Act itself is mainly a whole bag of FAIL.

  2. #2 |  Eapen Thampy | 

    Asset forfeiture as it was created in the 1970’s and 1980’s IS drug policy. That is to say, the off-budget, non-appropriated revenue stream derived from the seizure and forfeiture of private property was introduced first as a weapon against large criminal organizations and then (in 1984) as a funding mechanism for drug law enforcement.

    It is an honest conversation to have, and I prefer to show leadership on the issue by discussing the reality.

  3. #3 |  Jess | 

    Eapen, do you have any thoughts about why the signature campaign in Missouri failed? Did it start too late, not have enough funding, or is Missouri not a good fit for this sort of measure? Or was it some other reason?

    Mike, many people oppose both drug prohibition and the horrible tactics it uses. It’s no surprise that Eapen is one of us. What exactly do you want from him, as a person with personal political views? I sense that you want to complain that the Americans for Forfeiture Reform organization shouldn’t have argued against prohibition, but I’ve seen no indication that it ever made that argument. Just the same, rampant forfeiture abuse is but one of the many “unsolvable” problems that will simply disappear when we end drug prohibition.

  4. #4 |  Eapen Thampy | 

    Yes, I try to keep these things separate. AFR is not an anti-prohibition organization, it is a property rights organization. I personally advocate ending prohibition and I do try to inject forfeiture arguments into the prohibition discussion.

    I think the signature drive in Missouri failed because it did not have enough funding, plain and simple. It is hard attracting funders to the issue, particularly those who can credibly commit to funding an event on the scale of a ballot initiative.

  5. #5 |  marie | 

    You are doing interesting work. So many changes must be made, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Asset forfeiture, mandatory minimum sentences, prosecutors’ abuse of power, prison overcrowding, rising rates of incarceration, disenfranchisement of felons…

    Legalizing marijuana (and other drugs, or all) would be a huge win that would nearly eliminate asset forfeiture, prison overcrowding, among other issues. I say “nearly” because law enforcement will not let go of that power too easily. I can easily see them moving asset forfeiture efforts to the emerging war on child porn.

    Sadly for child porn users, society is deep in the midst of hysteria about sex offenders. The Second Age of Reason can’t begin too soon.

  6. #6 |  Aresen | 

    You know, considering the dog interests of the average Agitatot, “Americans for Forfeiture Reform” (AFR), would pull more interest here if it was “Americans to Reform Forfeiture” (ARF).

    ;P

  7. #7 |  Radley Balko | 

    Marie:

    I’m all for fairer, saner, more reason-based sex offender laws.

    That said, “Sadly for child porn users . . . ” isn’t the best way to begin an argument.

  8. #8 |  David | 

    It is, if nothing else, unique.

  9. #9 |  marie | 

    Thanks, Radley. I will be more careful about when I use that phrase from now on.

    Sadly for child porn users, they get stuck with years and years in prison for looking at pictures. Pictures and videos that never should have been made, pictures and videos that no one should want to look at. Using CP is indeed a moral wrong; I will not argue otherwise.

    I WILL argue that putting men in prison for looking at pictures freely available on the internet is insane.

    The feds (ICE, in our case) can point to all the CP convictions and say that they are protecting children. But the vast majority of those convictions are NOT of the people who produced the images or abused the children. In the meantime, CP flourishes. The supply of those images has not diminished one whit.

    There is something like a 97% conviction rate for CP offenses. The reason? Mandatory minimum sentences give prosecutors a powerful hammer to force defendants to take the plea. Same injustice for drug charges, but ending the drug wars is a “cleaner” cause than CP.

    Sadly for child porn users, most people hate to get caught empathizing with someone so darned icky as a sex offender.

  10. #10 |  AlgerHiss | 

    Sometimes 2 and 3 times a week, the WSJ (the printed WSJ, I’m not sure about the online) posts the FBI, ATF and DEA’s forfeiture list, and it is both disgusting and depressing to see. Each week, thousands and thousands of entries.

    Most folks have no idea this is going on. It’s truly dangerous. We have no business using pabulum such as “land of the free and home of the brave”. We are neither.

  11. #11 |  Jess | 

    Is it worse to get on the list reserved for people who use the phrase, “Sadly for child porn users…”, or on the list of people who oppose forfeiture? I guess we’re all going to find out.

    Don’t get between a cop and his rack^H^H^H^Hsource of employment.

  12. #12 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “I am glad to say that we were able to at least partially succeed in moving the ball: thanks to an engaged and active citizenry, along with a responsive police chief, Columbia does not see the SWAT team deployed for ordinary search warrant service.”

    Congratulations for that and welcome to The Agitator, Eapen. Progress is progress. If we could at least get to the point where SWAT is deployed for the reasons it was originally supposed to be deployed (hostage/barricade, terrorist attacks, etc) then that would be better society. As an anarchist, I do not see reform as an end. But, I am always happy to see changes made that might reduce suffering and death. Thanks for working to make life freer and safer for people in your community.

  13. #13 |  marie | 

    If SWAT teams were used the way they were intended to be used, maybe people wouldn’t have thought about using them for their own criminal purposes.

  14. #14 |  Gordon | 

    If by “reforming” asset forfeiture you mean *eliminate* asset forfeiture, then great. Else, it just leaves the door open for the State to re-encroach.

    SWAT works pretty much the same way. If they’re allowed to have it at all, they *will* abuse it – it’s in their nature.

    There are some things the State simply should not be allowed to have.

  15. #15 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #14 Gordon:

    Fair enough. I don’t disagree with you, I was just showing some appreciation for progress that has been made. I think evolution has a better track record than revolution.

  16. #16 |  el coronado | 

    Good on yer, Eapen. Any organization dedicated to fighting forfeiture (and RICO?) abuse is doing God’s work. You may have also shown us masses a much better way to fight the evil dumbshits who suckle at the teat of the bloated police state and/or drug war: asymmetrical warfare. If we’ve learned anything about governmental groups/agencies/bureaucracies in the last 15 years or so, it’s that they are *seriously* not capable of handling radical or new modes of attack/battle/enemy. (“enemy” being, in this case, We The People)

    The last 100 years of utter miserable drug war failure – *any* high-school kid in America with a decent ‘non-narc’ rep and the cash can score *any* illegal drug in 72 hours or less, just like we could when I was in HS a million years ago: everybody knows a guy who can fix it – that failure has taught us that the entrenched system is very _very_ good at beating back head-on attempts to change it.

    I think you & your organization just might constitute a fabulous, unanticipated flanking move they’re not ready for. Now why didn’t *I* think of that?

  17. #17 |  Michael Dulick | 

    The best thing about Eapen is that you cannot pigeonhole him into a fixed set of expectations. But things are related, yes. The present “liberal” position seems to be that private property does not exist, unless it’s your unborn baby, and then you can SWAT away!

  18. #18 |  johnl | 

    Does anyone remember when this started? Am I remembering correctly that forfeiture was invented to respond to the outrage of not-guilty verdicts? Sieze bank accounts to eliminate the 6th Amendment without the trouble of amending the Constitution.

  19. #19 |  Windy | 

    #9 marie, you are correct “most people hate to get caught empathizing with someone so darned icky as a sex offender.” but it must be done if we are to be logically consistent in “fighting for human freedom”.

    “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” — HL Mencken

  20. #20 |  Jim Collins | 

    I remember getting a loan to buy a used car in Florida in 1986 and my bank making me take it to a company that certified that it was free of drug residue. It was also in the loan agreement that if my car was seized for drugs, I was still responsible for the payments. My sister had to go through the same thing when they bought a house in Florida.

  21. #21 |  JMJ | 

    Nothing meaningful to add to the topic at hand, except to thank Radley for allowing Eapen to blog here. Good to see a fellow malayalee on the interwebs…

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