Entrapment, State-Santioned Robbery and Denver’s Scarlet Letters

from Ignite! #2:

As if it couldn’t possibly get any worse for the reputation of law enforcement in Colorado. Alongside a growing list featuring the sexual assault and exploitation of children and women, countless beatings, unjustifiable homicides, repression of political dissent and numerous failed cover-ups, the Denver cops have another nasty tactic to add to their repertoire: highway robbery.

A report filed last month by local corporate news affiliate KDVR detailed a story in which several motorists were caught in a prostitution sting set up by the Denver Police Department. Largely utilizing an antiquated loophole which allows police to file solicitation charges if an undercover officer dressed as a sex worker is so much as waved at, honked at, or otherwise acknowledged, police booked more than twenty people in a matter of hours.

Many of these charges are dropped, and many maintain their innocence from the beginning, yet the accused face hefty fines to retrieve their vehicles from police impound lots. This isn’t an isolated incident. A story from 2010 details a man arrested under similar circumstances who was required to pay $5,000 to get his work truck back. The truck, a 1991 GMC, was not even worth that amount. The city maintained that even if he was cleared of criminal charges, he had to pay the money to get his property. If he didn’t, the city sells the car at auction and keeps the money.

In Ft. Collins, medical marijuana patient and caregiver Frank Marganzo waited more than three and a half years for the return of several thousand dollars in marijuana cultivation equipment after an illegal search and seizure. Motorists traveling through the southern regions of the United States are also familiar with this strong-arming from law enforcement. In Texas, a lawsuit was filed in 2009 alleging Texas police were abusing asset and evidence forfeiture laws to quite literally steal from anyone they wanted. Most of these thefts were committed against ethnic minorities. Georgia experienced a similar case last year when a police officer was indicted by a federal grand jury for taking bribes to protect drug deals, carrying a stolen weapon, and robbing drivers of personal property during traffic stops.

The obvious short-term ramifications of this kind of behavior are easy to predict. The public will continue to fear and seek to appease and obey law enforcement when confronted with the situation, but that kind of relationship breeds mistrust and fuels resentment. The police’s motive is obvious, seizing assets and tying their fates to an arduous litigation process is a great way to pad bloated budgets and payrolls once the evidence room gets a spring cleaning or the impound lot goes to auction, and that’s giving a clearly corrupt organization the benefit of the doubt to start with. What is more disturbing is the long-term effect on our community.

While it’s abhorant when any human being is forced into labor, particularly sex work, there are many individuals who choose it as a profession for a variety of reasons. In hard economic times especially, there may be a lot of people turning towards the sex industry to help make ends meet. For some, it is an empowering way to get by, a way to manage one’s own life in a way that makes time valuable and turns a natural act into a way to sustain themselves in an exploitative socioeconomic environment. There’s a few that see it as a fun way to make a few dollars. For others it’s slavery.

That’s why relying on laws that criminalize acknowledging the existence of a woman walking down the street or standing on a corner is fundamentally wrong. Regardless of their status as sex workers, trying to force the idea that these women should be invisible, shunned and ignored down the throats of the citizens of this city through acts of intimidation like arbitrary arrests is unethical and archaic. This demonization of sex workers in Denver has been going on for nearly a decade. In 2002, then-Mayor Wellington devised a program in which the names and mug shots of arrested alleged prostitutes and their customers would be broadcast twice a day on the city’s cable station.

Driving sex work further underground through police repression will only lead to unsafe conditions for all parties involved and worsen health problems, like the city’s rising levels of hepatitis infection. Denver should respond to sex work not as a vice crime to be quashed, but something to be examined from a healthy sociological viewpoint in the same vein as the pending vote on needle exchanges. Instead, it becomes another victim of the State’s rabid, profitable pillage.

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