Faith angle or not, this Washington Post story on civil asset forfeiture will outrage you

Yes, the story we are about to discuss has a religion angle.

But it's not a religion story per se.

Rather, this is a story about what happens when law enforcement authorities with unchecked power trample on an ordinary person and take his personal property — with little recourse on the citizen's part.

Sadly, the case in question involves my home state of Oklahoma, as the Washington Post reports:

Eh Wah had been on the road for 12 hours when he saw the flashing lights in his rear-view mirror.
The 40-year-old Texas man, a refugee from Burma who became a U.S. citizen more than a decade ago, was heading home to Dallas to check on his family. He was on a break from touring the country for months as a volunteer manager for the Klo & Kweh Music Team, a Christian rock ensemble from Burma, also known as Myanmar. The group was touring the United States to raise funds for a Christian college in Burma and an orphanage in Thailand.
Eh Wah managed the band's finances, holding on to the cash proceeds it raised from ticket and merchandise sales at concerts. By the time he was stopped in Oklahoma, the band had held concerts in 19 cities across the United States, raising money via tickets that sold for $10 to $20 each.
The sheriff's deputies in Muskogee County, Okla., pulled Eh Wah over for a broken tail light about 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 27. The deputies started asking questions — a lot of them. And at some point, they brought out a drug-sniffing dog, which alerted on the car. That's when they found the cash, according to the deputy's affidavit.

As the story continues, readers learn:

All told, the deputies found $53,000 in cash in Eh Wah's car that night. Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson said he couldn't comment on the particulars of Eh Wah's case because of the open investigation, but it is clear from his deputy's affidavit that the officers didn't like Eh Wah's explanation for how he got the cash. "Inconsistent stories," the affidavit notes. Despite the positive alert from the drug-sniffing dog, no drugs, paraphernalia or weapons were found. Just the cash.

The Post notes that deputies had trouble understanding Eh Wah because English isn't his first language. They eventually let him go, but they kept all his money.

The entire story is worth a read. However, prepare to be outraged. (There is a happy development that you'll notice in the "update" at the top of the story.)

In a general sort of way, the newspaper provides a nice glimpse of the kind of person Eh Wah is:

People who know Eh Wah say they are flabbergasted at the notion that Oklahoma considers him a drug trafficker. "It is very, very strange for us, for the whole Karen community," Marvellous, the band member, said, referring to the Burmese ethnic minority that Eh Wah and Marvellous belong to.
"Eh Wah doesn't even know how to smoke. Eh Wah doesn't know how to drink beer," he said. "He's a very simple man, simple and straight."
The musical ensemble was playing concerts for Burmese Christian communities stretching from Utica, N.Y., to Bakersfield, Calif. They were raising money for the Dr. T. Thanbyah Christian Institute, a religious liberal arts college in Burma serving the Karen community there. They had also collected funds for the Hsa Thoo Lei orphanage in Thailand, which serves internally displaced Karen people.
Eh Wah worked at a refugee resettlement agency in Dallas, helping Karen people like him start new lives in the United States and escape persecution back home. So the Klo & Kweh Music Team naturally turned to him for help in planning and executing the U.S. tour.
The work was exhausting and stressful, but it was rewarding. Eh Wah secured all of the proper visas for the band members. He lined up a 23-city tour schedule spanning four months. He made sure that all 11 band members showed up at the right places at the right times.
Eh Wah is quiet and humble almost to a fault. When I spoke with him on the phone, I could barely make out the words he was saying. "Normally, I’m a very quiet person," he explained. "I don’t talk a lot. The way I live my life, I never thought that I would go somewhere like jail, that I would have to explain myself with all these things that I never have done in my life," he added. "I don't even know what the drugs look like."

But does the Post nail the religion angle in this story? Yes and no, I'd say.

Yes, because — as I mentioned earlier — this is not a religion story per se. I don't think we can fault the writer for not dwelling more on faith matters given all the other crucial ground that was essential to cover.

No, because I can't help but think that even a quote or two from Eh Wah about the role of his Christian faith (particularly in dealing with this trying experience) would have added immensely to an already excellent piece of journalism.

What do you think, dear readers? By all means, tweet us at @GetReligion or leave a comment below.





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