Watching Philadelphia’s Watchmen: A Week’s Worth of Corrupt Cop Cases

naceIn just the last week alone, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) may have done more damage to its own reputation among the city’s residents than even the most convincing critic of centralized government authority could have managed. A series of scandals that have been showcased in recent local and national news has significantly tarnished the respectability of the PPD and its personnel, and rightly so. As a result, both faithful supporters of law enforcement efforts, as well as those who are instinctively wary of the police, are questioning whether or not the agency is working on behalf of the general public’s interests, altogether. Given the seedy nature and insidious details of the stories of police corruption that surface every day from cities everywhere, who could blame anyone for distrusting the intentions of law enforcement officers? In the city of Philadelphia, where I live, it has become almost impossible for conscientious individuals (especially members of minorities) not to, and here are some examples of why:

When a video of officer Philip Nace (pictured above) and his patrol partner unexpectedly went viral on YouTube, their abusive interactions with two innocent African-American pedestrians suddenly fixated the eyes of thousands of online viewers upon Philadelphia and its burgeoning police state. The video’s footage, which depicts the officers verbally and physically assaulting the two young men without any justifiable cause for suspicion, demonstrated the unjust persecution that has unfortunately become commonplace in cities such as Philadelphia and New York, where the tyrannical and racially-driven “stop-and-frisk” policy has become a legally accepted standard of police conduct. Despite causing quite a stir in the day or two following its initial debut, it seemed somewhat unlikely at first that the video would ultimately have an impact of any measurable significance: police brutality videos are almost a dime a dozen nowadays, and often result in few consequences for the officers involved, regardless of the number of views that they manage to generate. It came as something of surprise, however, when less than a month later, a second incriminating video of Nace and his partner surfaced on YouTube, filmed committing an outright display of what can only be described as, “bullying,” for a second time, and again without any apparent provocation. This time, the footage portrays the overtly hostile officer Nace aggressively tipping over a local resident’s basketball hoop seemingly at random, destroying the $450 piece of equipment in the process. The two officers then proceed to climb back into their police van, at which point Nace can be witnessed venomously calling out, “Have a good day!” as the two drive off, followed by a spitefully bellowed, “Jesus loves you!” which spews from his partner’s gullet in a manner that could invoke only contempt for the two thugs on the part of any dignified viewer. Upsetting, though it is to watch, the video manages to show the officers masterfully defaming themselves in a manner that is purely reliant upon such a candidly grotesque display of their own unpleasantness: the brutishness of the two graceless bloats conveys volumes on its own, never requiring anyone other than the policemen themselves to demonstrate their own repulsive cruelty. The ugliness of their misdeeds simply speaks for itself.

The young man who had shot the footage (who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from Nace) has revealed to the press that he is no stranger to Nace’s abusive tendencies, and even went as far as to remark:

“He comes out here and harasses people all the time…Nace is a bully.”

Fortunately, the shocking content of the two videos resulted in the suspension of both Nace and his partner, and has since sparked an investigation into the conduct of the officers during their time spent on duty as policemen. However, this is only the beginning: the recent smattering of shameful and angering instances of misconduct by Philadelphia police officers hardly ends there.

When India Torres returned home to the residence she shares with her family in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, only to find that intruders had broken in and robbed it, she naturally didn’t hesitate before calling the police. Regular readers of this website may find the Kensington region familiar, as the area’s ongoing saga of the tyrannical abuse of its residents by corrupt politicians using eminent domain laws to seize rightfully-owned property was recently the subject of another Stateless Statements article, the link to which can be found here. Despite the painfully slow creep towards gentrification that is ever-so gradually progressing within the neighborhood, the area is infamous for being one of heavy drug trafficking (among countless other illegal activities). As a result, Torres’ surprise came about not because of the break-in itself, but from the shocking discovery that there was enough evidence to strongly indicate that the burglary had been committed by five police officers who had been working as part of the city’s 24th District Narcotics Enforcement Team.

burglaryThe five agents appear to have broken in without even so much as a warrant, allegedly operating based on the lame excuse that there had been a hunch that the residence was a drug house. After entering through one of the house’s windows, they reportedly proceeded to search for any lingering evidence of illegal activity. After their search uncovered nothing of the sort, however, it is presumed that the officers then took it upon themselves for whatever reason to steal various items from inside Torres’ home, many of which later turned up in the lockers of the suspected officers upon further investigation by Internal Affairs. Flabbergasted as to why her family’s residence was even targeted for search by police in the first place, Torres remarked:

“We live in a drug infested area. They assume everyone is the same. They don’t separate the good people from the bad people. They just assume everyone is the same, and they treat everyone the same way, and it has to stop…I don’t own that much stuff in my house, and the little bit of stuff I have is very valuable. I work hard to have this house, and for someone to just come in and destroy it–it’s not gonna happen.”

A similar display of the kind of treachery, misconduct, and corruption that seems to be shared among certain Philadelphia police officers is that of city homicide detective Ron Dove. Dove was suspended from all street work earlier this month after suspicions arose that he had assisted his girlfriend, Erica Sanchez, in covering up evidence of her guilt after she had allegedly stabbed her former lover, Cesar Vera, to death. However, this would turn out to be only the beginning of the story, as numerous other grave allegations against Dove have continued to develop during the course of the still-ongoing investigation into his shadowy past. Local news source Philly.com reported on October 26th that an iPad confiscated by police from Dove’s home was found to contain some rather perplexing and potentially incriminating images of the detective, potentially linking him to the scene of a recent Northeast Philadelphia drug bust which had resulted in the confiscation of a whopping $300,000 worth of heroin. Photos contained within the tablet depict Dove alongside the suspected drug dealer, smiling in a bar together, his arm suspended around the very same man that authorities believe to be responsible for the gargantuan kilogram stockpile of drugs that had been seized during the sting operation. The connection of the two men with one another is certainly puzzling, to say the least, but the aura of unsavory associations surrounding the suspended Philadelphia homicide detective goes even further.Crooked-CopDove is also presently under the scrutiny of Internal Affairs for having potentially covered up the investigation into the 2010 murder of Leslie Delzingaro. Delzingaro had been gunned down in a bar which was owned by none other than the father of Dove’s girlfriend (stabbing suspect Erica Sanchez), while Delzingaro had been making a routine business visit to the establishment as part of her job selling decorative lighting fixtures. Upon receiving news of the recent investigation into Dove’s suspicious activities, the family of Delzingaro has come forth, claiming that Dove (the lead detective in charge of her murder investigation) had seemed unusually nonchalant about the slaying, repeatedly insisting that the bar’s owner was a “great guy,” and that there was little cause for further inquiry about the matter. Dove is also suspected of covering up information regarding the 2012 murder of 22-year-old Melanie Colon, who was shot six times at close range and found dead behind an apartment building in the Juniata Park neighborhood. Investigators believe that Cesar Vera, the slain ex-suitor of Dove’s girlfriend Erica Sanchez, is linked both to the murder of Melanie Colon and to the disappearance of the last person to have been with her while she was still alive: Colon’s boyfriend, local mechanic Reynaldo Torres. Notes confiscated from Dove’s iPad led search parties to a littered ravine near Torres’ home, where cadaver dogs uncovered a debris-covered tarp, the contents of which have been submitted for DNA testing. The results of those tests are still pending at present. Following the gathering of such a wide range of incriminating evidence, an arrest warrant was issued for Erica Sanchez, who turned herself in to police last week and has since been charged with the murder of Cesar Vera.

The complex and tangled web of suspicion surrounding Dove has resulted in the transfer of all of the open cases still under his investigation to other city detectives. However, when reporters for Philly.com inquired of the District Attorney as to whether or not those investigations themselves were now under review due to detective Dove’s numerous allegations of guilt and having covered up criminal evidence, a spokesperson for the office declined to comment. It appears as though nearly all of the facts and circumstances of this disturbing and convoluted saga will continue to remain shrouded in mystery, at least for some time to come.

What is clear, especially to those residing within Philadelphia’s city limits, however, is that something is most definitely awry about the recently-observed pattern of local law enforcement officers’ misconduct. In a society that has been abandoned and preyed upon by the same individuals who have been delegated the responsibility of protecting the people, what other option remains for people but to stand up and start protecting themselves? Perhaps the demand for an end to the presently-monopolized services of the police will come about as a result of the realization that an alternative provider of community security is absolutely essential to the safety of its inhabitants. Perhaps stories like this will point people in the right direction, towards the realization that no good can ever come from an industry that has been monopolized by a government, or by any other agency.

watchmenPerhaps people will begin to realize that there are alternatives to the present system, and that competition and accountability in the markets for security and justice will foster a more level playing field that is far less susceptible to abuse and corruption. Perhaps people will begin policing themselves, and start protecting themselves and each other from society’s countless criminals, whether such villains be independently-operating, or working on behalf of the corrupt and violent monopoly that calls itself the “government.” For ultimately, it is those who continue to hold offices within this corrupt agency that present the greatest threat to peaceful individuals today: independent instances of crime pale in frequency and scale compared to the mass abuses and concealment of abuses being carried out every day by the state and its employees. It’s time that some alternatives were created, and the people of Philadelphia are slowly beginning to undergo such a process of realization. After all, how could they not, at this point, given that the aforementioned stories have managed to unfold in all their grisly horror over the course of only the previous week? And these are merely the few recent cases that the public has even been made aware of. There are bound to be countless others that remain outside of the public eye.

The writing is on the wall. The idea has already gone viral on YouTube. Just look at the public’s reaction to Nace and his partner’s civil rights abuses if you still need proof. It’s time for responsible individuals who care about public safety to police the police; the time is now more than ever. The stakes are growing higher, and the implications are more dire than ever before. Until then, please stay safe.

***

Sources:

Officer Philip Nace’s Case:

Kensington Break-In:

Detective Dove’s Investigation:

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Carpe Brutality, Carpe Corruption: Prime Time For Government Crime

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Ask virtually any private sector employees how they feel about the perks and rewards that are offered to those who work on the payroll of the government instead of an independent employer, and you’re likely to receive similar responses.  Few among the commonly blue-collar ranks of privately employed workers are shy about the advantages of taking a job in the public sector instead of working for a private enterprise.  Who can blame them, given the obvious differences between the two types of career fields and their systems of financial incentives, especially in terms of their benefits packages and the consequences (or lack thereof) for failing to perform their required job duties?  Most government jobs come packaged with health benefits, paid vacation time, generous salaries, and an unspoken guarantee that the position being filled will always continue to exist in the future (unlike offices in the more competitive private market, which are subject to obsolescence if the business itself fails to succeed).  Morality aside, why wouldn’t anyone want job perks such as those which the government promises its employees?  From an employment standpoint, it would be financial insanity not to.

Combing through the news lately in search of subject matter to write about, as I so often do, I must admit that every day I become more and more envious of those who are part of the public sector workforce.  It sounds like quite “the life” to me: working less frequently, with more holidays, and for better pay than most other employers might be able to offer, filling a position which isn’t likely to be going out of business in the near future, and which above all else, offers health benefits (something that many of even the best employers aren’t able to afford for their workers).  If it was possible to remove the immorality of government from the equation altogether, I’d take just about any job offered to me that boasted perks such as these in a heartbeat.  For now, however, all I can do is envy those who remain ignorant enough of the ethical implications of government and its methods of conduct to continue serving it.  And believe me when I tell you that the media has been providing me with plenty of enviable subject matter lately, several of which are as follows.

The first example of some of the aspects of public employment that most private employers could never even hope to be able to compete with comes about in light of the recent and controversial “government shutdown.”  When the federal government was temporarily forced to halt many of its operations due to an alleged dispute between congressional democrats and republicans, up to 80,000 of its employees were forced to take a mandatory vacation until a decision could be reached regarding its new budget standards.  I use the term “vacation” deliberately here, because essentially, that’s all it was: congress has agreed to refund federal employees who were affected by the shutdown for the lost time they incurred as a result of the debacle.  While such a refund alone is enough to rival many businesses in terms of their ability to compensate employees for time lost to them during a company hiatus, the paybacks for those who were temporarily put out of work because of the shutdown don’t just stop there.  Apparently, depending upon which state they live in and its individual laws regarding the matter, government employees who were impacted by the temporary closings are also going to be able to receive the unemployment compensation they would have been entitled to (had they not been brought back following the shutdown) in order to cover the time during which they were forced to spend out of work.

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Talk about a dream job, right?  Imagine if your boss realized his company was going broke, and closed it down to make some important budget changes, and in the process, you received both a paid vacation and an additional unemployment check for lost time once the company reopened?  That would hardly sound like a bad deal to anyone, especially considering the fact that many independent business endeavors never reopen once they have reached the level of financial turmoil that the United States government has managed to get itself into.  No business could ever afford that kind of compensation for employees who were put out of work as a result of its own financial mismanagement.  Only the government could manage such a feat, due to its means of funding itself, which relies on the forcefulness of involuntary taxation rather than on peaceful and voluntary contributions offered in exchange for the services it provides.  Such a business model would make any entrepreneur envious.

The second example involves now-infamous former UC Davis police lieutenant John Pike (pictured at the top of this page), who was catapulted into the public eye back in 2011 when he brutally pepper-sprayed 21 students during a peaceful demonstration that took place as part of the global Occupy movement.  This week, Pike was awarded a $38,000 workers’ compensation settlement that he pursued due to alleged psychological problems which he claims resulted in the aftermath of the incident.  Pike, who also received eight months of paid administrative leave following his shocking display of violence, has since left the force altogether, but not without the kind of hefty compensation that accompanies a position of government employment.  Despite the fact that UC Davis has been forced to cover nearly all of the damages (shelling out roughly $30,000 a piece to each of Pike’s victims, in addition to his workers’ compensation settlement), the fact remains that few other positions could ever possibly afford an individual the kind of cushy leeway that Pike has received, especially after having committed such an unspeakable atrocity.

Allow me to attempt to put it in perspective.  If you hired a babysitter to care for your children, and found him instead endangering them with physical abuse, would you pay him to take an eight month vacation and then hand him a large settlement if he claimed to have been distraught by the public backlash that followed the incident (which had been his own fault, anyway)?  What kind of a system would follow such a standard list of procedures?  What kind of message might be sent to others still in Pike’s former line of work, as a result?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for such individuals to just wait until the right moment to abuse some person or another in order to receive time off with full pay and benefits, before filing for a settlement to cover the “psychological distress” that was ultimately the the result of their own actions, in the first place?  Such an incident is hardly different from the outcome of the majority of police brutality cases observed today–if anything, police are indirectly rewarded for their actions, rather than penalized for them.  Even if they are fired outright, which is generally rare, they almost always still receive pensions and compensation for the rest of their lives, the figures of which many private sector workers could only dream of matching in all of their years of hard work.  Who wouldn’t want a job that pays its employees forever once they do the wrong thing, without ever even making them work again?  Does any of this sound like “justice” to you?  Does any of it sound right?

The third and final recent example of how government jobs feature such enticing (though skewed) programs of rewards and consequences is a recent story reported by the Associated Press that raises some rather alarming concerns about the dependability of the individuals who are most entrusted with the safety of both the national and international public.  As was confirmed by the Air Force on October 23, 2013, an incident transpired earlier this year in which one of the members of a two-person crew that was responsible for watching over an underground facility containing nuclear missiles left his post unattended, door open, in order to receive a food delivery while his fellow crew member slept.  A similar incident took place at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana back in May of the same year, when a maintenance crew was allowed into an underground launch control center while one of the crew members responsible for its attendance remained asleep.  Such conditions violate Air Force safety standards, and with good reason: nuclear missiles are hardly a lighthearted matter, especially when left almost entirely unattended by those to whom the responsibility of maintaining their security has been delegated.

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But what repercussions did those who were responsible for such potentially catastrophic breaches in the security of nuclear weapons face?  The most extreme penalty imposed upon these individuals was the mandatory forfeiture of no more than $3,100 pay for a total of two months, and the remaining parties who were found guilty of such negligence received punishments of even less severity.  And while there was admittedly no victim brought about by any of their actions, each of them failed to perform their most important job duties (which could have resulted in deadly consequences under the wrong circumstances) and were unable to fulfill the responsibilities that they had voluntarily sworn to personally uphold.  Anyone in a line of work not funded through the government and its system of taxation would have at the very least been terminated, and might even have had to face charges being pressed against him or her in court for engaging in hazardous occupational negligence.  However, when a government employee is caught doing so, even in the most extreme cases bearing life-or-death implications (in this instance, failure to properly watch over a nuclear missile control center), there are few repercussions, if any.  The ultimate outcome of scenarios such as these almost always results in what is, at most, a mere inconvenience for whomever comes to be held responsible (if anyone even is held responsible, in the first place).  Compare such an outcome with the case of a waitress who gets fired for accidentally missing even one of her shifts, and you might begin to see the point that I am trying to make here, if you haven’t already.

However well-intentioned, individuals who are employed by the government represent a different economic class of people altogether.  They operate under different codes of conduct, with different repercussions for their actions, and with different economic incentives to guide them through their decision-making processes than those who are otherwise employed by private citizens.  For these reasons alone, government services will rarely, if ever, be provided efficiently or conscientiously by those who are on the state’s payroll.  There just isn’t enough of a system of checks in place to ensure that state employees consistently strive to provide their “services” in such a manner, and there never will be.  It’s a logical impossibility, altogether.  In many cases, the motivating incentives are just the opposite: there are more often than not significant benefits to either abusing one’s position of power, or to simply neglecting one’s duties, both of which generally result in paid leaves of absence, enormous settlements, and various other forms of compensation–all in exchange for not even having to work.  It’s only logical that many individuals would respond to such incentives accordingly.

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Even I admit that I sometimes envy those who occupy such financially secure positions, required to provide such little labor output in return.  It must really be nice, after all.  However, once individuals across the board start to recognize the true nature of these conditions for what they are, along with their often-serious implications, the challenge of preventing future dilemmas like these from happening again can begin to be approached from a more sensible and strategic standpoint.  When a system that rewards failure, incompetence, and misconduct is in place, what else can anyone honestly expect from those who work for it?  Once the shift has been made towards the direction of personal responsibility, accountability, and more sensible economic incentives, the transition to a more morally responsible and economically sustainable means of organizing society can begin to occur.  As for now, who can really blame the freeloaders that just want to get paid for doing virtually nothing?  If you thought you could get away with it, wouldn’t you be doing the same thing?  And wouldn’t anyone else?  Isn’t that the problem, altogether?

***

Sources:

Government Shutdown:

Lt. Pike’s Settlement:

Nuclear Negligence:

 

 

 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Robbed of Every Penny

i_want_your_money_unclesam-taxAccording to the present legal code of the United States justice system, if an individual is charged with a crime that bears significant financial implications (such as conspiracy or embezzlement), the government is literally allowed to seize and withhold any and all assets deemed to be potentially related to the accused party’s pending criminal charges–regardless of whether or not any hearing has been held in order to prove the connection of such funds with any crimes. 

The logic behind this policy is presumably that if a criminal has committed some sort of financial misdoing which resulted in an unlawfully-obtained fortune, he or she should not be allowed to use such ill-gotten funds to his own advantage in order to fight off the charges.  The idea admittedly makes sense on paper, certainly, but has in practice taken on a life of its own, resulting in unthinkable sums of accumulated assets that have been seized by the state in order to cripple the ability of accused criminals to defend themselves from the government’s allegations against them.  The entire process has transformed itself into a tremendous racket, beneficial only to the federal government, and has indeed served to be a rather profitable one, at that.

In fact, over $4.2 billion was deposited into the United States Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund as of September 30, 2012 (the end of the government’s spending year).  Compared to the $1.6 billion in seized assets that had been accumulated within the fund in the two years prior to 2012, the rapid increase in frozen and confiscated finances starts to become a rather curious matter, indeed, for those who are paying attention to it.

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As evidenced by the previously-mentioned Justice Department financial records, there has been a significant increase in the government’s willingness to seize the assets of defendants, and the ethically-questionable practice has unfortunately become more and more commonplace in modern-day court cases.

Rising to challenge this practice (as well as the potential for such a legal process to be abused by court officials) is Miami defense attorney Howard Srebnick. However, Srebnick’s attempt at doing so is neither the first, nor the last of its kind.  The Florida attorney, who has undertaken the responsibility of providing legal defense for New York-based couple Kerri and Brian Kaley, is challenging the constitutionality of the very process itself, through which a defendant’s assets may be seized without even so much as a pretrial hearing taking place to defend the validity of the criminal allegations being raised against him or her.

Srebnick claims that such a policy of conduct violates the constitutionally-guaranteed due legal process by neglecting to prove that the accused party has any reasonable evidence of criminal misconduct against him or her.  Also aiding his criticisms of the policy’s constitutionality is the argument that the seizure of assets prevents a defendant from having adequate access to the financial means necessary to afford for his or her preferred representative to provide legal counsel in court.  Howard Srebnick and his clients are seeking to ensure that the courts henceforth require a pretrial hearing to establish the integrity of the criminal charges against an accused party, in order to prove that the seizure of his or her assets is both justifiable and necessary.

In the case of Srebnick’s clients, the Kaleys, the couple argues that the legal actions taken against them to confiscate both their home and their net assets (which totaled to $2.2 million) altogether were not only detrimental to their ability to properly defend themselves in court, but outright immoral to begin with.  Charged with having illegally profited through South Florida’s “gray market” for medical equipment by re-selling medical devices which the Kaleys claim were rightfully given to them by hospitals that had upgraded to more modern equipment, the couple maintains their assertions of innocence.  Prosecutors, however, are hardly as certain of the couple’s denial of illegal intent, and were able to seize the Kaleys’ assets and savings with virtually nothing in their way to stop them.  Srebnick argues that such measures were unfair, and that the Kaleys’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial was compromised by the financial disadvantage that was naturally forced upon them as a result of the complete and total confiscation of the couple’s entire net worth.

Unfortunately, the Kaleys are hardly alone in having fallen victim to such intimidating and ruthless tactics.  Similar cases have been reported where accused defendants have been granted their right to invoke an attorney of their preference only in exchange for providing a guilty plea, or other similar sets of circumstances that ultimately victimize those who are being accused by the court and its prosecutors.  In a statement which summarized his stance on the matter most effectively, Srebnick announced his aims in fighting the case for the Kaleys:

“I ask that this court not rule that the government can beggar a defendant into submission.”

However, the resulting outcome of the efforts of the Kaleys’ and their attorney to seek justice in such a corrupt system is at this point uncertain, at best.  Dishearteningly, each of the 24 past attempts within the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to establish the requirements for a pretrial hearing which would serve to validate the necessity of an asset seizure has failed.  Even more troubling is the fact that Justice Antonin Scalia, a political player in this unfortunate saga, has stated that his position on the matter favors simply overturning the ability to enforce asset forfeiture before a conviction is delivered altogether, a move which would benefit others in future cases, but unfortunately still deny the Kaleys their request for a hearing to justify the confiscation of their wealth and property.

A verdict isn’t expected for several months, and the outcome remains unpredictable at present.  The reality of the situation is clear, however: any government that has the ability to confiscate the entirety of an individual’s wealth on the grounds alone of an as-yet unproven accusation (thereby preventing that individual from being able to legally defend his or herself against such allegations) possesses the power to damn that individual on a very whim alone.  Such a system of government is as far removed from justice as could possibly be conceivable, and is as closely associated with the plunder and enslavement wielded by the most tyrannical political regimes that history has ever known.  No justice can be expected to be served through any actions of such an abusive organization, and as such, no consent deserves to be given to either those acting on its behalf, their edicts, or their threats.

Banksy Made Me Rich: The Miracle of Creative Effort

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In the cultural landscape of the 21st century digital age, it isn’t every day that a figure from out of the fine art community rises to the surface of the mainstream from beneath the detritus of pop culture gimmicks and tabloid concessions that dominate modern-day media content.  Whether the mainstream coalition of crank news providers who pose as sources of viable information choose to direct the public’s attention towards the rumored substance abuse of some Hollywood starlet or other, or toward her suddenly outwardly-sexual coming-of-age, the apparent allure of these tremendously influential “journalistic” presences is often powerful enough to determine what is or is not regarded by the general public as being considered “newsworthy.”  It is both refreshing and long-overdue, then, to observe the present-day phenomena of well-deserved buzz that is currently being attached to the work of the mysteriously unidentified street artist known only by a single nickname: “Banksy.”

Banksy, an anonymous guerrilla street artist whose work first began surfacing in the early 2000’s throughout the artist’s native country of England, has established quite a distinguished name for himself in the international art community.  His works, which are generally composed of stencil pieces that are fleshed out into almost-living images by means of illegally-placed spray paint, blur the lines between art, graffiti, and social commentary, the marriage of which has led to Banksy’s tremendous fame and notoriety in the realms of both art and popular culture.  His original pieces are valued at nearly unthinkable prices; any wall upon which his work appears is generally torn down and auctioned off for more money than its owner could ever have imagined his or her lot might come to fetch for its property value alone.  Many of his designs sell for amounts that extend well into the millions, with both Banksy’s artistic talents and the infrequency of their mysterious appearances feeding the flames of his international fame.

It is this particular aspect of Banksy’s impact upon the world that I wish to discuss: the notion of his ability to create something of virtually unprecedented value from essentially next-to-nothing, and the impact that his work has upon those who are graced by his artistic marks.

There are many reasons for Banksy to have remained anonymous for so long, the primary reason being of course that his preferred medium of expression, graffiti, is considered a crime in the form of property destruction (otherwise known as vandalism).  However, Banksy’s work raises questions about what constitutes art vs. graffiti, and whether or not such a means of creative output (when executed properly) is as destructive in practice as it is commonly considered in terms of basic principle.  His anonymity has only further contributed to the coveted worth of his artistic repertoire; were his identity to be revealed, it is possible that the value of his future works could become diminished due to a lessened demand for his works of art, which are presently sporadic and unpredictable in their appearance.  If anyone could simply contact Banksy for an artistic commission, much of the thrill and almost hallowed nature of his pieces would be lost, leaving his creations with less luster than they might have otherwise had, were they to have suddenly appeared overnight in traditional Banksy fashion.  But Banksy’s ability to generate value seemingly from nothing doesn’t stop there.

The artist has managed to make a small fortune for himself, receiving commissions for various pieces that he managed to compose while simultaneously preserving his own anonymity, and rightfully so.  However, by the same token, he has also managed to contribute significantly to the wealth of certain lucky others who have been fortunate enough to have been graced by the artistic touch of this mysterious artist.  In addition to those upon whose property he has left his mark (perhaps the only examples of property destruction that an anarchist and private property advocate such as myself can find to be worthy of my support), Banksy recently endowed small fortunes upon unsuspecting passersby by selling original prints of his works on the open-air streets of New York City.

After posting a display table and an inconspicuous salesman to watch over it, Banksy offered a number of his original canvas prints for sale to the general public.  The vast majority of passing pedestrians were unaware of the significance of the art pieces being displayed for sale on the city sidewalk that day, perhaps numbed by the commonality of street vendors and the tedium of their everyday lives.   All in all, what Banksy managed to show for his efforts to sell the works to curious onlookers totaled a mere $420, with the artist managing to part with only a handful of pieces throughout the course of the day.  His customers, however, had received the deal of a lifetime, accompanied by a hug and a kiss from Banksy’s kindly old salesman, who understood the magnitude of their transactions even better than those who were making the purchases.  Each of them had unwittingly inherited a small fortune that day, all thanks to Banksy and his creativity, anonymity, generosity, and ingenuity.

It is for this reason, among others, that (despite vandalism’s stature as a crime against private property in any of its forms, including graffiti) Banksy’s story is ultimately a demonstration of the triumphs of capitalism.  For one thing, it is difficult to determine with any measure of certainty whether or not the residual artistic impressions left by Banksy’s hand upon the architectures he selects as his canvasses may be considered vandalism in its truest form or not.  Such a distinction can only be made subjectively and on an individual basis, but I am inclined to argue (as are many others, presumably) that because Banksy’s work is so sought-after and fetching of such high prices, his acts of what might otherwise be considered vandalism actually become a form of property enhancement and enrichment.  Serving to add outlandish value to their chosen canvasses, Banksy’s pieces could hardly be argued as being in any way damaging to any property for any reasons other than those which are purely sentimental in nature–indeed, most of his imprints add enough worth to the plots upon which they are ingrained to be able to financially cover far more than even the initial property value of the location altogether.  Such an outcome is hardly damaging to the owners of any of the sites upon which Banksy has chosen to exercise his craft.  This is an economic anomaly in and of itself, and is reason enough to celebrate Banksy for his extraordinary contributions to society.  However, his commendable achievements are hardly limited solely to this particular impact; let us consider the ramifications of his recent not-to-be-ignored street vending stunt and the impacts his work managed to have on both the market as well as the consumers who were fortunate enough to have purchased one of the Banksy pieces being offered for sale that day.

Consider for a moment the figure that I had mentioned earlier: $420, which was the amount of money that Banksy had allegedly managed to bring in for himself from the profits of his art sales that day.  Taking into account that Banksy had been selling most of the works that day for an asking price of roughly $60, it becomes apparent that in reality, he really didn’t end up selling very many of them at all.  However, once the artist’s costs of production have been taken into account, one is able to see how profitable such a day’s outing might have been for an average street-vendor trying to make an average living. Essentially costing only the price of the spray paint and the canvas itself upon which the work was painted, and with very little labor involved to reprint the stencil design, Banksy was able to achieve a relatively high profit margin in exchange for selling his work, with very little costs in terms of energy or materials.  He probably took home roughly $300 in profit that afternoon, which would be considered a relatively successful day by most people’s standards of income (especially street vendors).  Now, consider the impact that his transactions had on those who purchased his work.  Each individual buyer may have spent $60 on any one of his or her chosen prints, but consider the pieces’ true values, which would only reveal themselves after the moment of purchase as being worth thousands upon thousands of dollars in reality.  Not only was Banksy able to make a modest, though livable profit from the sale of his exclusively sought-after prints, but he was able to bestow a relatively sizable fortune upon those who bothered to purchase any number of his works.  From literally out of almost nothing, Banksy was able to add his time and effort to a piece of canvas and some spray-paint, turning them into an easily-reproduced work of art that was able to fetch not only a reasonable selling price for himself, but also a fortune for those who had purchased one of his pieces–all from an initial manufacturing cost that was practically non-existent.  He was basically able to give a fortune away for free, with no cost to him–in fact, he actually profited in the process.  This is the compassionate potential of honest capitalism at its most clearly demonstrated.

By adding time and effort to what was essentially nothing in the beginning, an individual may be able to transform something into an item that is of value to both himself and those who find it desirable enough to be worth purchasing.  In this case, the results are gratuitously profitable for all parties involved, but this kind of transformation from what was virtually nothing into an object of value through the process of adding human labor to the equation occurs every day in the market, on all levels and scales of magnitude.

Banksy’s work is significant not only for demonstrating that vandalism can sometimes serve as an asset boost in certain rare instances (revealing a market anomaly that has rarely, if ever, been exhibited before this set of circumstances), but also for illuminating the idea that through entrepreneurial enterprising and creativity, prosperity can be achieved by all parties who engage in such a mutually beneficial and voluntary market exchange.

Also worth noting is the fact that the majority of Banksy’s work is technically considered to be a criminal act, and yet, where was the victim in any of these scenarios?  Perhaps Banksy’s artistic contributions and their effects on those who encounter them should convey to us all a very specific message about the nature of prosperity and its origins.  Such a remarkable story clearly illustrates the idea that real value comes only as the byproduct of both creativity and human effort, and that the elimination of restrictions on individual freedoms often results in increased prosperity for all parties involved.  The end results of the exchanges of goods and services that are inevitably brought about by such environmental conditions, which are conducive to unrestricted innovative exploration, are almost unanimously beneficial for all parties involved, economically, artistically, and socially.  The case of Banksy’s guerrilla artwork and the fortunes raised by the worth of his works of art are no exception.  Indeed, they are instead a perfect demonstration of such an economically promising concept, inherent exclusively to free-market capitalism.

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Kensington’s Saga of Property Theft and Political Crooks

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In the city of Philadelphia, a group of property owners are rightfully outraged by the local government’s attempts to forcibly confiscate their rightfully-owned land through the use of eminent domain laws.  These property seizures are being conducted in order to build a proposed housing development project in the neighborhood of Philadelphia known as “Kensington,” an area which has become notorious for its poverty levels and high crime rates, despite the region’s burgeoning trend towards gradual gentrification.  This slow-moving increase in community conditions and home values has apparently prompted the project’s proposal, which seeks to stifle the area’s upward socio-economic shift by ensuring that low-income housing remain locally available to those who are unable to afford the rising prices that coincide with community improvement.

The proposed project, called “Tajdeed” (which is Arabic for “renewal”), would have the capacity to support up to 45 low-income families, replacing the various properties that already exist in the Kensington region.  The project is being funded through a private-public partnership between the city government, the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, and Conifer Realty LLC, a coalition of special interests that has been vehemently pushing for the completion of the housing project.  Marwan Kreidie, executive director of the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, has expressed that he and his partners, “Look at this [housing project] as the last chance to maintain low and moderate income in this area.”

Apparently, Kreidie and his group feel as though total gentrification is a bad thing for an impoverished community because it increases property taxes, making it hard for poor families to afford to live there.  In response, Kreidie has been pursuing what he proclaims to be a “public good:” he and his organization are seeking to combat the natural economic evolution of the city’s neighborhoods by using government force to seize privately-owned properties and replace them with low-income housing projects, the development of which is to be funded significantly in part by government grants.

Yes, that’s right: he wants to keep certain areas of the poor neighborhoods poor in order to ensure that those with a low income can still afford to live in slums within that particular region.  What a hero.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez was another key contributor in pushing for the use of eminent domain to seize the properties in order to move forward with the Tajdeed project.  She shares an opinion about the neighborhood’s recent economic growth that is similar to Kreidie’s, and also wishes to stifle Kensington’s progress of gentrification and ensure that the neighborhood maintains its present status of debilitating impoverishment.  At a rally against the use of eminent domain in Kensington, she was quoted as saying that she, “doesn’t need consent,” to seize private property, and insisted that anything that is considered legal is therefore also moral.  In an interview with writer Solomon Jones, Sanchez made the following remarks:

“There is nothing more important that government can do… than to assure affordability and accessibility in the entire city…  You have to stop the gentrification by ensuring there’s affordability everywhere.”

That’s right, again.  We have to stop gentrification so that the poverty can stay within the community, rather than allow natural economic conditions to guide individuals of various financial statuses to the areas with costs of living more suitable for their levels of income.  Won’t that be great for the city and its local economy?

But wait: how will this marvelous feat of economic stabilization be conducted?  By use of government force, naturally, in the form of eminent domain laws (a fancy term for property theft used by the government to soften the blow of the crimes it commits)!

The use of eminent domain has absolutely exploded in popularity within the city of Philadelphia in just the last year alone.  In 2012, the City of Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (the city government’s division of property thieves) seized approximately 1,200 private properties from their rightful owners–a dramatic increase from the mere 100 cases of eminent domain use in the previous year, a number which seems miniscule by comparison.  The reason for the sudden drastic increase in eminent domain cases is likely the result of the grandfathering in of local eminent domain laws, which allowed the city to postpone adopting the state of Pennsylvania’s recently-changed policies regarding the acceptable use of eminent domain following a 2005 Supreme Court ruling.  This ruling, known as Kelo vs. City of New London, held that private redevelopment projects of “blighted” areas could be considered to fall within the realm of “public use” under the Fifth Amendment, and are therefore a legally-legitimate reason for the government to invoke eminent domain in order to allow for their construction.  Since the newly-modified Pennsylvania state laws are much more restrictive of the use of eminent domain, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority appears to have been scrambling to cram as many possible uses of property seizure laws into a single year as it could possibly process before the new laws could go into effect on January 1st, 2013.  And cram, they most certainly did, as is indicated by the dramatic difference in the number of annual eminent domain cases from each of the two years.

And now, in Kensington, that use of power to seize rightfully-owned property is being used against 19 property owners who are understandably angry about their local government’s tyrannical abuse of power.  Among them is Meletius Athanasiadis, who has been offered a mere $149,000 from the city in exchange for seven of his properties, which include among them six parking garages and one residential home, the tenants of which are now being threatened with displacement.  “Mel,” as he is called, along with the other victims of this tremendous violation of individual and property rights, was given little time to challenge the proceedings in court, and received notice of the impending property seizures just days before Christmas.  In addition to having received such short notice of the city’s intent to steal their land from them, Pennsylvania state law allows a window of only 30 days to contest eminent domain attempts (a condition that most of the Kensington property owners were unaware of at the time).  Since January 18th, their only option has been to negotiate with the government for financial compensation; they are no longer able to challenge the use of eminent domain against them and their properties.

Maria Quinones Sanchez admits that efforts to communicate with the victims of this injustice could have been much better, but remains indifferent about the matter and is continuing to push for the completion of the Tajdeed project:

“Our communication was not the best and that’s why we’ve hired a community outreach coordinator. We will do our best to be more deliberate moving forward.”

As for Marwan Kreidie, he expressed his stance on the matter in an interview for NBC10, Philadelphia:

“Look, the project is gonna happen.  I think the important thing now is to make sure that everybody knows what rights they have, and they basically have to go and negotiate with the City. We want to make sure everyone is happy and gets a fair amount.  We’re convinced this is gonna be a great project.  It’s a community project and we’re all excited about it.”

Everyone, that is, except the victims of the state aggression he supports.  For those being forced to give up to the city government what is rightfully theirs at the behest of the economically-illiterate political influences who are seeking to stifle their community’s development, excitement could not be further from their range of emotions.  Some of Mel’s statements on the matter include:

“I can’t get justice done. I made a good investment, and the government can come and take it off of me to give it to a developer, why?”

“How can this happen in the United States out of all places? They [the government] acted like they’re gods.”

“They’re stealing.  They’re taking my property, my tax dollars, and giving it to someone else…”

And Mel is correct in all cases.  Eminent domain is property theft, pure and simple, and there is no excuse on earth that could ever justify its use for any reason.  If a government can take someone’s property away based solely on whatever justifications it has made up for itself in an attempt to legitimize its crimes, then the question is raised about how much, if anything, anyone actually owns in this country.

Theft is theft, regardless of who commits it or whatever agency claims that there is a necessity for it, government being no exception.  What’s happening in Philadelphia is outright thuggery, and should not be tolerated for even an instant.

If people calling themselves “the government” have the ability and power to steal from you everything that you’ve worked your whole life to achieve, what does that say about what the term “ownership” actually means within the context of today’s society, or about which group is working to serve whom?  Do you think that a so-called “representative” or “public servant” ought to be able to steal your land and property from you for any justifiable reason, let alone for the outrageous excuse of needing to keep your community poor? 

A society in which such actions transpire is as far-removed from the ideals of freedom as one can be, and has already made its descent into complete and utter tyranny.  The only hope of putting a stop to these kinds of outrageous crimes is to resist allowing them to be committed at all costs, and to spread the word about such injustices to as many individuals as possible.  Property rights are the most important element of a free society, and if the state manages to take away an individual’s right to his own private property, it has also taken with it his self-ownership altogether.

Eminent domain is theft, plain and simple, and it is wrong in every instance.  No amount of grandstanding or usage of flowery legal terminology will ever change that reality–theft is theft, and ought never to be accepted by anyone, whether such an act has been committed by a common crook or by an elected official.  The outcome remains the same, and until such conduct is rejected entirely by every single individual member of society, unfortunate stories such as this one are only likely to continue to be present in the everyday news stories of the future.  Hopefully, people will begin to recognize eminent domain (and all other government initiatives) as the violent theft that it is, and begin to resist it sooner rather than later.  Those people in Kensington sure did, and with any luck, more will be soon to follow.  Perhaps the state will shoot itself in the foot by continuing to commit such abuses of its power, and bring about its own destruction when those who have been subjected to its oppression are no longer willing to tolerate it.  Hopefully that day will come about sooner rather than later.  Until it does, however, the only thing that I and the Kensington victims of eminent domain can do is spread the word about the importance of private property rights, and about the dangerous pitfalls of a society that fails to recognize them.