It fits the pattern. Black men carry the burden of South Carolina’s civil forfeiture program. Almost two-thirds of people targeted by forfeiture are black males, according to TAKEN investigation data analysis. Yet they represent just 13 percent of the general population.
Hilary Shelton, the NAACP Washington bureau director, said the organization worries the racial targeting in South Carolina is even worse than has been reported.
“Civil asset forfeiture, combined with the historic and consistent problems of racial profiling on our highways and byways, becomes very much part of a troubling equation,” he said. “It’s been used in a racially discriminatory manner. The law must be fully reviewed.”
South Carolina’s legal legacy
The state has a long history of racial discrimination related to property.
Civil forfeiture is a vestige of that history, some critics say. It links to an established trend of targeted law enforcement that puts more police in contact with non-whites, an exposure that can lead to civil forfeiture, experts say.
Some departments have built a money-making machine on the backs of this type of targeting.
It starts with where police use forfeiture. It’s happening in every urban environment in South Carolina. There are only six cities in the state with a population over 50,000. All of them frequently use forfeiture.
In smaller towns, only about half the police forces use the tool at all, and most agencies don’t pursue many cases.
The system is designed to be applied at scale. The more forfeiture is used, the more money police have at their disposal for equipment, training and for undercover drug purchases.
Though the racial disparities in the data exist broadly across the state, the decisions that lead to civil forfeiture are situational. It’s a traffic stop, or a drug investigation that leads to a residence, or increased patrols in low-income or historically black neighborhoods.
The TAKEN team used census data to analyze the widest disparities between the number of forfeiture cases with black subjects compared with the number of black residents in an agency’s jurisdiction.
The largest racial gaps? The highest disproportionate targeting of black people came from the Myrtle Beach Police Department, followed by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office and the Charleston Police Department.
During 2014-2016, there was one black person targeted for forfeiture by Myrtle Beach police for every 50 black residents who live there. If you roughly extrapolated that rate over a generation, one in five black people would have money or goods taken by police in Myrtle Beach at some point over three decades, despite the fact that the city is mostly white.
The city is 69 percent white and just 14 percent black, according to 2014 U.S. Census data.
In Greenville County, black people were targeted for forfeiture at a rate of one per every 587 black residents during our three-year study period.
In comparison, forfeiture affected one white person per every 4,139 white residents in the county. Greenville County is 69 percent white and 19 percent black, according to U.S. Census data.
“It just sort of reinforces an understanding we already knew — that black residents disproportionately come in contact with law enforcement given the way criminal justice policy is oriented in this country,” said Nicole Porter, spokeswoman at The Sentencing Project, a reform advocacy group.
A piece of this policing story is tied to the highway and police behavior and assumptions.
In one case, a Wellford officer pulled over a black man on Interstate 85 for what he said was failure to maintain a lane. When he discovered cash in the car that day in 2012, the officer called in the top Homeland Security agent in Greenville to help seize it. They’d found what police said were “marijuana particles.”
The North Carolina driver, Lee Harris Jr., said it was tobacco. The officers took $7,008 from the glove box.
“I call them pirates,” said Lee Harris Sr., the driver’s father. The elder Harris is a minister and a military veteran who said the money comes from his bank and from documented Social Security and benefits.
Harris said he had left $7,000 in the car when his son went on a trip to Atlanta. He filed a lawsuit, and after a year-and-a-half, he settled. The government kept $2,008 even though Harris’ son was never charged with a crime.
Sometimes police seize cash when the driver is merely ticketed for a minor violation not related to drugs, according to court records.
Ramando Moore was cited for having an open container in Richland County in 2015; he lost $604.
Plexton Denard Hunter was pulled over for a seatbelt violation in 2015 in Richland County and had $541 seized. Tesla Carter, another seatbelt violation, this time in Anderson in 2015. She lost $1,361.
If you’re black and driving in South Carolina, you are more likely to be stopped by police. In 24 states with available race data by traffic stop, the state had the second highest rate of black motorists stopped by state troopers, according to a 2017 study by the Stanford Open Policing Project.
In Greenville County, there were 24 state patrol stops for every 100 black residents of driving age. There were only 15 stops for every 100 white residents in the nine-year study period, according to the project.
Officers have a lower threshold to search black drivers than white drivers, the Stanford research shows, evidenced by data that revealed when officers searched drivers, they found contraband more often on white drivers than black ones.
Yet the scope of action taken by law enforcement and the justice system against black Americans throughout U.S. history makes it easier for an officer to take from a black person than a white person, said Heather Ann Thompson, a criminal justice and African-American history professor at the University of Michigan and author of “Blood in the Water.”
It’s the same reason black people are prosecuted more harshly, are incarcerated more often and for longer sentences and face civil fines and penalties more often than whites. They’re just not as likely to be able to marshal resources to fight back against the justice system, she said.
“It has everything to do with who has access to good defense lawyers and who’s getting pulled over to begin with,” said Thompson, who’s a leading voice in criminal justice reform.
The racial disparity may begin with traffic stops, but it extends well beyond them in South Carolina.
How often are black people in this state the victim of civil forfeiture when the police encounter doesn’t involve being pulled over in a car?
Excluding known traffic stops, police seized money from black people in two-thirds of all cases compared with one-third for whites, our TAKEN data analysis shows. It’s an even more startling fact when considering South Carolina is 69 percent white.
Ella Bromell, a 72-year-old widow from Conway, twice nearly lost her home, though she’s never been convicted of a crime in her life.
Yet the city of Conway nearly succeeded in seizing her house because they said she didn’t do enough to stop crime happening on the sidewalk and in her yard. Young men were using her lawn as a location to sell drugs at night, according to court records.
The fight between Conway officials and Bromell, who is black, began in 2007 and lasted a decade — culminating in court in 2017 when two judges sided with her and wrote that the city “failed to produce any evidence that the residence was an integral or otherwise fundamental part of illegal drug activity.”
Still, Bromell fears the city will try again, despite the police admission in court that they couldn’t say if she was even aware of a single drug sale around her house.
Conway City Manager Adam Emrick said the city has contemplated future seizures in the case of Bromell or similar property owners.
Losing her home would be the end of her, Bromell said. “I don’t want to go nowhere else.”
Thurmond Brooker, Bromell’s attorney, said the law is being warped without the public even noticing. “It’s being used in a way in which innocent people can have their property taken,” he said. “Little old ladies whose property is being trespassed upon can be victimized for a second time.”
Why are black citizens like Bromell facing forfeiture more often than their white neighbors?
One police official said it’s because there’s more drug crime in the black community.
“We go where we’re called,” Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller said. “We police where people are telling us there are problems. We’re not an agency — and I don’t know a police agency — that tries to balance racially its interdiction of drugs off the street.”
The bulk of the drugs and weapons calls the city receives are in minority communities, Miller said. He said he won’t apologize if police tactics disproportionately engage black men and lead to more seizures.
In Greenville County, the Sheriff’s Office initiated 256 forfeiture cases from 2014-2016, of which 150 involved blacks and 85 involved whites.
Greenville city police had 89 cases. Of those, 53 involved blacks and 22 involved whites.
Miller said the city has spent time and money on racial bias training and is working to better track data on traffic stops.
David Smith, one of the architects of the expanded forfeiture laws enacted in the 1980s to fight the War on Drugs, said it’s a great tool for going after significant criminals. Drug lords. White collar masterminds. But increasingly forfeiture has been co-opted by local police forces to take petty cash on the side of the road, he said.
Grant, the Atlanta musician, said he understands how police work and knew right away he would fight to get his money back, even if it cost him legal fees.
“They knew we were young, and we were black,” Grant said. “They pulled us over, gave us a bogus reason. We didn’t consent to search; they searched anyway.”
Grant’s drug charge was dismissed, and though he had proof that he earned his money legally — show schedules, payment receipts, contracts — it could have taken another two years before he could challenge the forfeiture in court. So Grant chose to settle rather than wait.
The state got $500. He got $7,500 back but had to pay his attorney $2,500.
His case was considered a good outcome.
“We’re the ones being railroaded,” Grant said. “It just speaks volumes to where we are as a people.”
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“You we’re hiding in the bushes” at what point was he hiding in the bushes lol!He wanted to arrest him so bad “when you’re going to jail it is gonna be real funny”“What’s crazy is he knows he’s wrong and you know he’s wrong and you’re still going on”. Yep. The thin blue line.I wish we could see them driving away. The UNCG code of conduct is online. It took me 1 minute to search for identification. Nowhere does it say you have to produce ID except in a hearing.
>> I agree when the cop started saying keep your hands out your pockets off camera who knows what would of happened. He was walking backwards to his car..lol ..WTF what a !!COWARDThe crazy thing about some of these cops is they have gotten away with things like this in the past. If it wasnt on camera he would have been arrested and the story would have been different. you see how he stated you were in the bushes, what “THESE” people do at times. Not all, not all, but a lot of them. It’s in them
>> Now that Officer did violate that students 4th Amendment Rights. The Sgt. Knew her Officer was wrong…and she still tried to cover for him. Comply…make it home alive… then contact an attorney. That’s the smartest approach.At the school I attended COC did indeed list showing your student I.D. to security and cops. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of people walking back and forth, so how is he unusual or suspicious? Besides, why sets up a camera on a main road if you intends to commit a crime?
When Fryer (an economist by training) tells the Times that he got interested in police shootings because of “his anger after the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray,” and (in Fryer’s words) “decided I was going to collect a bunch of data and try to understand what really is going on,” that should be another humongous red flag.AD
It implies that Fryer assumed he was doing something pioneering, rather than asking first what work was already being done and what he could add to the existing conversation. This is something that often happens when people in “quantitative” social sciences, like economics, develop an interest in topics covered in other social sciences — in this case, criminology: They assume that no rigorous empirical work is being done.
Ask yourself: How broad is this data? How broad are the claims being made about it?
The Times report does explain the data that Fryer and company used in the new study. But it turns out it’s not nearly as broad a sample as the conclusion “these results undercut the idea that the police wield lethal force with racial bias” would suggest:
(Fryer) and a group of student researchers spent about 3,000 hours assembling detailed data from police reports in Houston; Austin, Tex.; Dallas; Los Angeles; Orlando, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and four other counties in Florida.
That’s 10 police departments in three states, with a majority of them based in major cities. That allowed Fryer and his team to compile a database with a lot of different shootings — about 1,330 over 16 years, from 2000 to 2015 — but not a lot of different police departments or institutional cultures.
When it comes to policing, this is especially important, because so many issues of crime and policing are local. Different cities have different approaches to police-community relations; different tensions; different standards for use of force. (In fact, the cities Fryer and his team worked with are all members of a White House initiative on policing data launched in 2015 — and the kind of department that thinks data collection and transparency are important is likely to have different priorities in other regards than one that isn’t.)
In comparison, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report database includes records from thousands of police departments around the country. The number of shootings in the Fryer data set, spanning 16 years, is about equivalent to what the Uniform Crime Report compiles in two or three.
More importantly, the UCR report includes not just major cities but small towns and rural areas; not just diverse cities but less diverse ones; not just departments that think carefully about data collection but departments for which it’s just a needed chore to qualify for government funds.
Ask yourself: Is the question the study answers the same one the public is asking?
The most revealing passage in the Times article is probably the one explaining what Fryer and his team didn’t include in their study:
It focused on what happens when police encounters occur, not how often they happen. Racial differences in how often police-civilian interactions occur reflect greater structural problems in society.
In other words, Fryer and company found that there weren’t big racial disparities in how often black and white suspects who’d already been stopped by police were killed. But they deliberately avoided the question of whether black citizens are more likely to be stopped to begin with (they are) and whether they’re more likely to be stopped without cause (yup).
Avoiding those issues makes sense for the question Fryer was trying to answer. He wanted to know what happens between the moment a police officer stops someone and the moment he pulls the trigger — and how those sequences of events vary by race.
But when people talk about racial disparities in police use of force, they’re usually not asking, Is a black American stopped by police treated the same as a white American in the same circumstances? They’re making a broader critique of the “greater structural problems” in society in general and the criminal justice system in particular. They’re saying that black Americans are more likely to get stopped by police, which makes them more likely to get killed.
Eric Garner was killed in 2014 when police tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Philando Castile had been pulled over 52 times on misdemeanors (including for driving without a muffler and not wearing a seatbelt) before he was shot and killed last week. Michael Brown was stopped by Darren Wilson for walking in the middle of the street.
Maybe it’s possible (maybe) that those encounters would have been just as likely to escalate to the point of lethal force if each of those men had been white — but it kind of misses the point to say that, because if they’d been white, the encounters probably never would have happened.
Controlling for variables is an extremely important thing in social science. It allows you to figure out which factors actually matter and which ones don’t. In this case, Fryer and his team have given us suggestive evidence that among major-city police forces, police in tense situations are not unusually likely to shoot black suspects. They’ve made a valuable addition to the literature. But it’s just that: an addition, not a discovery, and not the last word.
Since 2013, Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and host of The Chris Hedges Report, has taught college courses in drama, literature, philosophy, and history at East Jersey State Prison (aka “Rahway”) and other New Jersey prisons. In one such course, after reading plays by Amiri Baraka and August Wilson, among others, Hedges’ students wrote a play of their own. The play, “Caged,” would eventually be published and performed at The Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey, for a month-long run in 2018 to sold-out audiences. In his latest book, “Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison,” Hedges chronicles the journey he and his class embarked on together. Joining Mansa Musa on Rattling the Bars, Hedges speaks about his book and the transformations he witnessed among the men he taught behind prison walls.
Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief of The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a columnist at ScheerPost. He formerly hosted the program Days of Revolt, produced by TRNN, and currently hosts The Chris Hedges Report. Hedges is the author of several books, including “America: The Farewell Tour”; “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America,” and “Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison.” Read the transcript of this video: https://therealnews.com/chris-hedges-… Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
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Shortly after our story aired on how police put LA resident Daniel Alvarez in handcuffs for a bogus traffic violation, he was pulled over again for allegedly switching lanes without signaling. In this episode of PAR, we explore the continued use of questionable traffic stops to harass people like Daniel, and what these troubling tactics say about the state of American policing across the country.
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