Wednesday, September 13, 2017
A stunned look fell over the hot dog vendor’s face as a police officer, ticketing him for lacking a permit, reached into the man’s wallet and pulled out $60. The vendor and a passer-by recording the exchange protested. “That’s not right,” said the cameraman.
“That’s how it works,” replied the officer, of U.C. Berkeley’s police department.
And now, video of the encounter outside a Golden Bears football game Saturday has become a fixation of the internet outrage machine. Uploaded over the weekend, it’s been watched millions of times and prompted demands for the officer’s firing. It’s also reinvigorated a debate in California over civil forfeiture, which allows the authorities to seize cash and property from people suspected of wrongdoing. Last year, the practice brought the state’s law enforcement agencies more than $115 million, according to government figures.
Policing groups argue that it’s an essential tool in combating drug trafficking. Critics say it’s been misused to generate revenue, in some cases from suspects never convicted of wrongdoing. That was part of the reason for a California law that went into effect this year tightening civil forfeiture rules. A spokeswoman for U.C. Berkeley’s campus police, Sgt. Sabrina Reich, said in an email that it was “routine to seize money as evidence of an illegal transaction.” The money, she explained, is needed as evidence.
That rationale drew skepticism from some criminal justice experts. “If the hot dog vendor is operating without a permit, the proper mechanism is to give him a ticket,” said Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm that has been critical of civil forfeiture practices. “The idea that certain serial numbers on certain bills are evidence is an absurd concept,” he added.
By Monday, the clamor over the case was so intense that the university opened an investigation. In a statement, Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy said in part: “We are deeply committed to building a climate of tolerance, inclusion and diversity, even as we enforce laws and policies.” An online fund-raiser to help the vendor, identified in reports as Beto Matias, has raised nearly $70,000.
Martin Flores, who recorded the video and initiated the campaign, said some of the money would be used to buy Mr. Matias a proper food truck. “I’m going to tell you this,” he said, “when we get the truck for him, he’s going to have a permit. He’s going to be ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Source: https://www.nytimes.com/newsletters/2017/09/13/california-today?nlid=17730818 and https://twitter.com/Moreno/status/906764058375766016