Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationNew York U.
Grant numberGr. 9562
Approve DateOctober 11, 2017
Project TitleSmith, Jackson L., New York U., New York, NY - To aid research on 'Policing Property: Civil Forfeiture and the Administration of Race in Philadelphia,' supervised by Dr. Michael Ralph
Civil asset forfeiture permits law enforcement agencies to seize assets from people suspected of crimes, especially those thought to be profiting from the drug trade. In the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter asked that the District Attorney’s Office use the practice to generate revenue for the city. Widely adopted as part of anticrime policy throughout the U.S. during the 1980s, civil forfeiture was also a widespread strategy for addressing municipal budget shortcomings. Nowhere has the practice been more rampant than in Philadelphia, where law enforcement agencies have generated over $6 million annually through seizures of cash, cars, and homes. Poor black and Latino residents have borne the brunt of this forfeiture program, which reproduces the segregated geography of one of the nation’s most impoverished cities. The DA legally justifies seizures from these residents by describing their homes as ‘imminent threats’ to public health and safety. My dissertation asks how law enforcement actors mediate the apparent contradiction between punitive asset stripping and the prevention or alleviation of harm. Through an institutional ethnography of Philadelphia forfeiture, I explore the intersection between punishment and property and inquire into the raced and gendered management of urban threats. My research contributes to the anthropology of law and police, critical scholarship on race and property in the urban context, and socio-legal scholarship on punishment.