From the Washington Post:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without proving that a crime occurred.Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
I wrote about this outrageous abuse of government and police power in 2012. It is an ethics disgrace of long-standing; why Holder was moved to take this action now (and not his first day on the job), I can’t imagine: maybe he wanted to finally do something as he leaves Justice that makes up in some small measure for his atrocious leadership. It doesn’t matter: seldom has the phrase better late than never been more apt. I’ll attempt to overlook the millions of dollars worth of property stolen from innocent citizens by the government over the last six years and give Holder his due now. He did the right thing.
My mind is much on the baseball play-offs today, an unavoidable hangover from last night’s amazing and exhilerating Red Sox-Tigers game, in which Boston went from hitless, five runs down and doomed in the 6th inning to miraculously victorious in the 9th thanks to a storybook grand slam by David Ortiz (you can see the immortal end result of that mighty blow in the photo to the left). It is 10 years to the day from when another remarkable play-off game occurred, infamous in Chicago, in which a fly ball foul that wasn’t caught by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou led to a furious rally by the Florida Marlins that resulted in the hapless Cubs being denied a trip to the World Series—the team’s first since 1935— that their fans thought was in the bag. The reason Alou missed the ball, or so the legend goes, was that a clueless Cubs fan wearing earphones reached out and deflected the ball. That fan, Steve Bartman, was awarded instant villain status. It was accompanied by media attacks and death threats, and poor Bartman left the city and may well have joined the witness protection program or jumped into a volcano. Nobody has heard from him in many years.
There is an ethics lesson in what happened to Bartman: one is never truly a bystander, and you have a duty to pay attention to your surroundings and to be ready to act. If you are present, you can make a difference, and might be needed, even it it is only to get out of the way. Call it the Duty of Life Competence.
The following post, however, is not about Bartman as much as it what happened to him, and how someone who could have come to his aid waited five years—too long—to do it. It was first posted on The Ethics Scoreboard in 2008: