To Live and Write in LA

Anthem Film Festival: Police are Coming to Take Your Stuff and Kill You Dog

(First published on blogcritics.org)

Even the best laws, based on high moral goals, can have unintended consequences. That’s why, according to two films at the Anthem Film Festival, July 13-16 at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, your property and your puppy are in danger.

SeizedSeized, directed by Matthew and Thomas Locastro, and Of Dogs and Men, directed by Michael Ozias, explore two types of police abuse taking place all over the country. Seized, winner of Anthem’s Best Short Documentary award, explores the problem with a police practice called civil asset forfeiture.  Of Dogs and Men, winner of Best Libertarian Documentary Feature and Best Score, tries to understand why over 10,000 pet dogs are shot and killed by police every year.

Seized

Civil asset forfeiture started in the 1980’s, an outgrowth of the war on drugs, as a way to allow police to get control of the proceeds from criminal activities, taking the profit out of crime. Two unintended consequences have resulted: random seizures and financial incentives.

The film chronicles the story of a young Baltimore man. Civil forfeiture ruined his life. He had cashed his tax refund of $4,200. The money was going towards helping his family and for his tuition. He was headed home when he was pulled over.

Officers said they detected traces of drugs in his car and seized the cash. His college education and potential basketball career ended that afternoon.

Why are police so quick to seize assets? Police departments have become dependent on cars, buildings and cash seized from suspects to supplement their department budgets. This dependence trickles down as pressure is put on individual officers to help with that cash flow. It becomes a consideration in their evaluations.

Of Dogs and MenThe film argues, convincingly, that this procedure violates the due process clause of the Constitution and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The intent of civil forfeiture was to take a bite out of crime, but it has taken a bite out of our rights instead.

Seized can be viewed at the new film site, Circa.com.

Of Dogs and Men

Speaking of bites, that brings us to the issue with man’s best friend, who has become police departments’ best target.

The film draws its name from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, in particular, the line “Trouble with mice is you always kill’em.”

So, why are police killing so many dogs?

Again, the drug war may have been the cause of this aberration to common sense. Inner city drug dealers became known for keeping vicious dogs to slow or stop police investigations or busts. If these were the only targets, perhaps this could be justified.

Of Dogs and Men

Lassoed, subdued dog about to be shot.

However, this has led to a common practice of shooting any dog that runs at a police officer, often in cases of routine investigations and wrong addresses. Even tiny terriers and chihuahuas.

Of Dogs and Men tells the story of numerous families who have lost their pets because of this practice. Thanks to the ubiquity of video cameras, many of the killings have been captured live and are shown in the film. Perhaps, the most disturbing showed a situation in which the dog was in a garage, was roped and subdued, and then was shot while it lay helplessly on the ground.

To be fair, you might ask, “But, how many officers have been killed by dogs?” Answer: No officer has ever been killed in the line of duty by a dog.

Of Dogs and Men is still on the film festival circuit where I am sure it will win more awards. You can find out more about the film, pre-order it, or find out how to get involved in a solution at the film’s website. It will be available on iTunes, Amazon and DVD on September 15.

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