The subject no one was asking for a cartoon about! And the cartoon, by me and Kevin Moore!
If you like these cartoons, then statistically you’re probably a mobile home designer from Akron whose name starts with a “C.” And you should support the patreon!
That civil forfeiture exists is continually infuriating, and I’ve been meaning to do a cartoon about it for years.
So what is civil forfeiture (aka civil asset forfeiture)? It’s a rule that allows police departments to take away our property – cash, cars, whatever – and use it to buy more tanks or whatever. And they don’t even have to prove we did anything wrong. The non-profit Institute for Justice gives some examples:
In 2019, nursing student and single mother Stephanie Wilson had not one, but two cars seized by the Detroit Police Department, losing the first one forever. That same year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Transportation Security Administration seized retiree Terry Rolin’s life savings of $82,373 from his daughter as she passed through Pittsburgh International Airport on her way to open a joint bank account for him. Three years earlier and about 1,000 miles away, a sheriff’s deputy in rural Muskogee, Oklahoma, seized more than $53,000 from Eh Wah, the tour manager for a Burmese Christian musical act, during a routine traffic stop; the funds were concert proceeds and donations intended to support Burmese Christian refugees and Thai orphans. None of these victims were convicted of any crime.
Their stories illustrate a nationwide problem: civil forfeiture. Civil forfeiture allows police to seize property on the mere suspicion that it is involved in criminal activity. Prosecutors can then forfeit, or permanently keep, the property without ever charging its owner with a crime.
Many Americans have trouble understanding that the government does this to us. Just take people’s property and upend their lives, without even charging anyone with a crime? Surely that couldn’t happen in American, land of the free, leader of the free world, etc etc..
In our cartoon the joke is based on the people from an unidentified (and, let me be the first to point out, hopefully before y’all point it out to me, unrealistic) past era being incredibly naïve about how 21st century policing works. But really, the two characters from the past are stand-ins for how naïve most present-day Americans (especially, I suspect, white Americans and well-off Americans) are about the police being a benevolent or even heroic institution.
Reason interviewed a married couple – white, educated professionals – whose lives were destroyed by the FBI, when it took almost $1 million from them without ever charging either of them with a crime. One of them said, “It’s completely changed my belief in fairness.”
(Reason is a libertarian magazine that I often disagree with. But civil asset forfeiture is one of those places where my beliefs overlap with libertarian beliefs. Reason has done a lot of good reporting on the subject, if you feel like reading something enraging this morning.)
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This comic strip has four panels. The first three panels show some sort of historic scene, probably in the old west? There are bandits with guns, and a horse-drawn stagecoach, and cowboy hats, so yeah. Kevin probably did a lot of visual research, but me, I just took extreme liberties with history in order to make the gag work. :-)
There are four people in this panel. Two of them are bandits, one holding a gun, the other holding a big knife (or maybe a short sword). Both of them are wearing brown leather boots, vests, and what I think of as cowboy hats. One of them has a big curly mustache.
They are pointing their weapons at a man and a woman. The woman is wearing an anikle-length blue dress with a double row of buttons on the front. The man, who has a huge thick mustache, is wearing a three-piece purple suit and a bowler hat. They have their backs to a horse-drawn stagecoach, and both of them are holding up their hands in the “I surrender, please don’t hurt me” gesture.
BANDIT WITH BIG MUSTACHE: It’s called “highway robbery.” Now give us all your money!
A shot of the couple who were robbed in panel 1. They are now sitting on the ground, with their backs to a tree. They are in fact tied to the tree, with a long piece of rope wrapped around them and the tree many times. The woman looks distressed, the man just looks sad.
WOMAN: Waylaid! Robbed! How could this happen?
MAN: It’s because our society isn’t advanced enough. But someday, the government will hire thousands of heroes to protect us.
The “camera” zooms in to a closer shot of them. Although they are still tied to the tree, they now look happy as they gaze into space, thinking of how beautiful the future will be.
MAN: These guardians will be men of the highest character, dedicated to helping ordinary citizens! It’ll be wonderful!
We have changed time periods, and are now in a modern city.
CAPTION: Centuries later
Despite being centuries later, panel 4 is laid out to be extremely similar to panel 1 – two men are threatening a male and female couple, pointing guns at them. Behind the couple is their car, a red minivan. (I think that’s what it is, I’m terrible at cars). The couple (who look very similar to the couple from panels 1-3, except that they’re in modern clothing) have their hands raised above their heads, the “I surrender” gesture.
The big difference is that the two men threatening the couple are wearing police uniforms.
COP: It’s called “civil forfeiture.” Now give us all your money!