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Tulia, TX: Drug War As Race War

Rogue Cop or Racist System?

'No More Tulias' Legislation Introduced In US Congress

Representative Shirley Jackson-Lee (D-TX) along with several of her colleagues has introduced legislation to "provide oversight and accountability for the millions of federal dollars distributed to state and local law enforcement agencies to fight the drug war."

According to the American Civil Liberties Union in its news release of May 25, 2005 ( "'No More Tulias' Legislation Introduced In Congress, ACLU Supports Oversight, Accountability of Drug Task Forces"), "'Until now, these drug task forces around the country haven't had to answer to anyone,' said Jesselyn McCurdy, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. 'As a result of this lack of state and federal oversight, they’ve been at the center of the some of the country’s most egregious law enforcement abuse scandals. This legislation would put checks and balances on their unfettered power, and make sure citizens aren’t rounded up based on uncorroborated testimony, or their race.'

The ACLU noted that "'No More Tulias: The Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005,' is being introduced by Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and cosponsored by John Conyers (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Ed Towns (D-NY). The bill is named after the drug task force scandal in Tulia, Tex in 1999 during which 15 percent of the town's African American population was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison based on the uncorroborated testimony of a federally funded undercover officer with a record of racial impropriety. The defendants have since been pardoned, but Tulia was not an isolated incident. Earlier this month, in a similar case, a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of 27 African Americans was settled out of court. The individuals were arrested in Hearne, Tex., a town of 4,500, on charges of possession or distribution of crack cocaine."

(For more information about the settlement over the incident at Hearne, check out "Civil Rights Lawsuit Is Settled In Hearne," Dallas Morning News, May 11, 2005.)

HR2620's full text was not available from either the Library of Congress or the website of Rep. Jackson-Lee at the time of this writing (June 2, 2005). However, the Library reports the title of HR 2620 as "To increase the evidentiary standard required to convict a person for a drug offense, to require screening of law enforcement officers or others acting under color of law participating in drug task forces, and for other purposes."

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Ex-Narc Coleman Found Guilty Of Perjury

The key figure in the Tulia Travesty, former police officer Tom Coleman, was found guilty of perjury in Jan. 2005. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on Jan. 15, 2005 ( "Coleman Convicted Of Perjury") that "Coleman was convicted on one count of aggravated perjury relating to a March 2003 writ of habeas corpus hearing where he told a judge he did not know of Cochran County theft charges against him prior to Aug. 7, 1998. He was acquitted of a second count of aggravated perjury relating to whether he knew he put gasoline into a private vehicle from a county-owned pump. 'Ask not, Mr. Coleman, for whom the bell tolls,' urged prosecutor Rob Hobson in his closing remarks, walking toward the defense table and looking grimly at Coleman. 'The bell tolls for you.'"

The defense was successful in getting for Coleman a sentence of probation only. According to the Avalanche-Journal, "Much of Friday's punishment phase parted ways with the actual issues surrounding Coleman's perjury as the defense tried to turn the sentence to probation and Hobson pushed for jail time. Hobson took advantage of the punishment phase to delve into the Tulia drug defendants and convictions snatched up with the help of Coleman's sole testimony. To do so, he called Freddie Brookins to the stand. Brookins, 27, spent three years and eight months in the Texas prison system before he was released - finally pardoned more than a year ago of a drug crime he did not commit. On Friday, Brookins took the stand, describing the effects of jail time and the accusations. The defense, said Hobson, used the opportunity to question Brookins to their own advantage, pitting blacks against whites. Of the 46 arrests in the bust, 39 were of black defendants."

The Avalanche-Journal noted that "At one point, defense attorney Kirk Lechtenberger pointed to the back of the courtroom where many of the Tulia defendants were watching the trial. 'Why do you think they're all watching this?' Lechtenberger said, alleging the case against Coleman was retribution for the Tulia bust. 'Because a long time ago, doing what he thought was right ... because he's white ...' Lechtenberger was cut off by an objection from Hobson, which was sustained by Gleason. 'That's offensive,' said a stunned onlooker in the gallery. The jurors - 10 whites and two Hispanics - were quick to make each of their decisions on convictions and jail time, spending a little less than three hours deliberating."

According to the A-J, "The sentence offered a brief, shining moment of happiness for former Tulia defendants in the back of the courtroom, who peered on with hopeful faces. Then, Judge David Gleason finished reading the verdict. Indeed, as quickly as their glee erupted, it just as soon faded when they learned of the jury's recommendation to probate the sentence. The judge will later rule on the length and terms of the probation."

The trial was disappointing in many ways but it did serve a good purpose. As the A-J reported, "'In Tulia, it's bigger than Tom Coleman,' said Gerrod Ervine, 23, who was convicted in the Tulia sting. 'It's a system. They just got one of their soldiers ( Coleman. )' With most of the case serving as a post-mortem media feeding frenzy, the search for answers to questions left over spilled into the fifth floor of the Lubbock County Courthouse where attorneys reflected on the legal effort in the case. As many of the questions focused on whether any other justice might be sought for the drug bust gone awry, Hobson said he was happy with getting more information out about what happened in Tulia. 'I think the people know a lot more about what happened in Tulia than they did before this case started,' he said. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart testified. In the midst of his testimony, Hobson asked Gleason to appoint an attorney for Stewart because of potentially perjurious testimony. Although nothing more was said about Stewart's statement, Hobson said determining whether Stewart lied on the stand would be up to Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney Bill Sowder and a grand jury."

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$5 Million Settlement Reached In Tulia Case

A settlement has been reached in the Tulia drug sting case. According to the New York Times on March 11, 2004 ( "$5 Million Settlement Ends Case Of Tainted Texas Sting"), "Five years after 46 people, almost all of them black, were arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Tex., their ordeal will draw to a close today with the announcement of a $5 million settlement in their civil suit and the disbandment of a federally financed 26-county narcotics task force responsible for the arrests."

The Times reported that "'This is undoubtedly that last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice,' said Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer in Amarillo who represented the people arrested five years ago in the civil suit. 'With the abolition of the task force, it completely closes the circle on what was done.' Mr. Blackburn added that the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force failed adequately to supervise the agent, Tom Coleman, in its eagerness to win battles in the war on drugs."

The Times noted that "The $5 million will be divided among 45 former defendants based on a formula that will take account of whether they served time in prison and how long. One defendant has since died. The settlement will be paid by the City of Amarillo, which had a leading role in running the task force. Marcus W. Norris, the city attorney, said many drug task forces in Texas were poorly organized and governed. That led, he said, to poor supervision of Mr. Coleman in Tulia, a lack of accountability and catastrophic misjudgments. 'There's a lesson here,' Mr. Norris said, 'that cities should be very careful about these alliances.' Mr. Coleman, who was named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia, will go on trial on perjury charges in May. He has pleaded not guilty. Jon Mark Hogg, a lawyer for Mr. Coleman, declined to comment on the civil settlement."

A settlement has been reached with Amarillo, however negotiations continue with other Texas counties and cities. According to an Associated Press story carried by the Charlotte Observer on March 12, 2004 ( "Amarillo Admits Drug Sting Had Erred"), "Kizzie White, who will receive part of the settlement, said Thursday she is satisfied with it and is especially glad to see the task force disbanded. 'They need to be gone, and let the city and county do the job,' said White, who spent four years behind bars and was released in 2003. 'The money is good, too, but that can't bring back the time I missed with my kids.' Mediation is ongoing with others named in the lawsuit -- 26 counties and three cities involved with the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force. Swisher County officials earlier approved a $250,000 settlement for those imprisoned based on Coleman's testimony in exchange for the defendants promising not to sue the county. Coleman no longer is an officer."

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Free At Last: 35 Victims Of Tulia Injustice Pardoned By Governor

Nearly all those convicted in the Tulia drug sting a few years ago were pardoned by the governor of Texas in late August. As reported by the Abilene Reporter-News on Aug. 23, 2003 ( "Perry Pardons 35 Convicted In Tulia Case"), "Gov. Rick Perry on Friday granted pardons to 35 people who were convicted of drug charges based on the testimony of an undercover agent later charged with perjury. 'Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair,' Perry said in a statement. 'I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just.' Perry said he was influenced by questions about the testimony of Tom Coleman, the only undercover agent involved in the busts. In June, Perry signed a bill allowing the release of the 12 Tulia defendants who were still in prison." Also earlier in summer, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended that the governor issue the pardons.

Two of the other innocent victims in the Tulia case are filing suit in federal court over the arrests. The Longview News-Journal reported on Aug. 24, 2003 ( "Pardoned Tulia Drug Defendants Celebrate Release: 'I'm Really Free'") that "Drug charges against Zuri Bossett and Tonya White were dropped last year after they proved they were not in Tulia at the time Coleman claimed he bought drugs from them. The women sued Coleman, Swisher County and its sheriff, Larry Stewart, prosecutor Terry McEachern and several officials with a narcotics task force in Amarillo that worked with Coleman. The women, who did not specify damages in their lawsuit, said the officials violated their civil rights and directed racial bias against Tulia's black population. Coleman's attorney did not return calls for comment. Stewart declined to comment."

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Twelve Tulia Defendants Free At Last

Twelve of the Tulia defendants, wrongfully convicted on the word of a sole, now-indicted narc, were set free in June, 2003. As reported by the Winnipeg Free Press on June 17, 2003 ( "12 Jailed In Drug Bust Set Free, Agent Indicted"), "After as much as four years behind bars, 12 people sent to prison in a drug bust that brought cries of racism in this Texas Panhandle town were freed yesterday by a judge who said they were railroaded by a white undercover agent. 'I got something to smile about today,' Freddie Brookins said after the release of his son, Freddie Jr . The 11 black defendants and one white defendant were released on bail while they pursue their appeals. But a special prosecutor has said he will dismiss all charges if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grants them new trials. The racially charged case tore apart this town of 5,000 people and led to investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and the Texas Attorney General's office. A bill passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry two weeks ago cleared the way for the defendants' release while their cases were still on appeal. 'There are a great number of people who have a great deal of time, effort and faith in each of you invested,' state Judge Ron Chapman, who was brought out of retirement to preside over a review of the case. The undercover agent, Tom Coleman, who worked for a regional drug task force, has been indicted on perjury charges. All 12 were released from the Swisher County Jail on personal recognizance bonds. The judge has recommended the appeals court overturn all convictions."

Supporters and rights activists were pleased, yet concerned that there are many more victims of injustice lingering behind bars. A story by United Press International on June 16, 2003 ( "Analysis - Are There More Tulias Out There?") reported that "'Who knows how many other Tulias are out there,' said Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who has worked on the case along with scores of other lawyers. The factors behind the arrests in Tulia are at play in the criminal justice system across the nation, she told United Press International. They include inadequate indigent defense systems, unchecked prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias, she said."

One Texas legislator is calling for an Innocence Commission to look into other cases where innocent victims may have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. According to UPI, "Questions have more recently been raised about the so-called 'fake drug' arrests in Dallas and the DNA work of the Houston Police Crime Lab, which involves death row cases. A Houston senator wonders how many others there are. 'The only reason we know about the problems in Tulia, Dallas and Houston is because it makes good press,' he said. 'But what happens when it is just one person who is wrongfully convicted? Nothing, they sit in jail.' Ellis wants an innocence commission established in Texas to investigate what went wrong in such cases just the National Transportation Safety Board does in plane crashes. 'I am glad to see these people released here today,' he said. 'Their plight should serve as a stark reminder that this can happen anywhere to anybody. We have a duty to prevent it from ever happening again.'"

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Coleman Indicted For Perjury

Will justice finally start being served? The Austin American-Statesman reported on April 29, 2003 ( "One Bad Agent, One Failed System Of Justice In Tulia") that a Swisher County, TX grand jury indicted Tom Coleman the week before "on three felony perjury charges accusing him of lying on the witness stand in March." According to the American-Statesman, "According to the indictment, Coleman testified he learned he was facing theft charges in August 1998 when Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart told him there was a warrant for his arrest. But other testimony he gave and evidence indicated Coleman knew months earlier -- in May 1998 -- about the theft charge. Before working undercover in Swisher County, Coleman had been a deputy in Cochran County. That county had issued a warrant for his arrest in the summer of 1998 for stealing county-owned gasoline two years before. Charges were dismissed after Coleman made restitution. The indictment also stated that Coleman lied about whether he told the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, as required, that he had been arrested."

The American-Statesman points out however that this case is about more than just Tom Coleman. The note:
"Coleman was the lone undercover agent in the 1999 drug busts that resulted in the arrests of nearly a tenth of Tulia's small African American population. His uncorroborated testimony convicted 38 people, sending more than two dozen to prison for terms ranging from 20 years to 90 years. Thirteen defendants are languishing in prison despite a judge's recommendation this month to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that convictions of the Tulia 38 be thrown out. The indictments are another indication that justice in Tulia certainly was deaf and dumb, but hardly blind. White jury after white jury convicted black residents solely on the say-so of Coleman, who is white. It's heartening to see a grand jury finally deal with a rogue cop whose apparent lies stole years of people's lives. But it shouldn't end with Coleman, a small fish. A grand jury should now focus on the bigger members of that school -- the prosecutors, sheriff and others -- who robbed defendants of their right to a fair trial by suppressing evidence about Coleman's tainted law enforcement record."

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Hearing For Four Tulia Defendants Challenges Narc's Testimony

Four of the Tulia, TX defendants convicted on the testimony of former undercover cop Tom Coleman are back in court to determine if there is any evidence of actual guilt. The Amarillo Globe-News reported on March 18, 2003 ( "Hearings Begin On '99 Drug Bust") that "Evidentiary hearings on the controversial 1999 Tulia drug bust kicked off Monday with a full house and witnesses questioning the integrity of the undercover officer who made the cases. The 242nd District courtroom was packed with spectators and attorneys in town for evidentiary hearings in the writ of habeas corpus appeals of four of the people convicted in the sting. The four defendants - Jason Jerome Williams, Christopher Eugene Jackson, Freddie Brookins Jr. and Joe Moore - all sat quietly to hear testimony that mostly called into question the honesty of their accuser, Tom Coleman. The four men were convicted and received sentences ranging from 20 to 90 years in prison. The cases of the four men were upheld on direct appeal, but the habeas corpus appeals of the four men were remanded back to Tulia last year."

The defense presented a number of witnesses who appeared to agree with the contention that Coleman could not be trusted. The New York Times reported on March 18, 2003 ( "Texas Cases Challenged Over Officer's Testimony") that "The proceedings started with lawyers for the jailed residents calling a parade of law enforcement officials who testified to Mr. Coleman's poor character and odd conduct. Ori White, the district attorney for Pecos County, who had litigated a divorce case against Mr. Coleman while in private practice, said, 'I do not believe Tom Coleman is an honest individual.' Mr. White said Mr. Coleman owned an illegal machine gun and that he so feared for his safety in the divorce case that he wore a bulletproof vest to court. Bruce Wilson, who was the sheriff of Pecos County for 16 years and for 5 years in the early 1990s was Mr. Coleman's boss said, 'You just couldn't depend on what he told you.' Juan Castro, the police chief of Fort Stockton, said Mr. Coleman was 'a paranoid gun nut.' Samuel Esparza, an investigator for the police department there, testified that Mr. Coleman was a racist. Mr. Coleman, who is now a private investigator, was not present today, has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment. He is expected to testify on Wednesday."

Coleman's own testimony in an earlier case also seems to call his veracity into question. Again according to the Times, "Mr. Coleman, who was named the state's Lawman of the Year in 1999, used unorthodox methods. He worked alone and did not tape record his drug buys. No drugs, weapons or large sums of cash were found in the arrests among the network of drug traffickers Mr. Coleman said he had identified. He described his methods in a 2001 deposition in a civil rights case brought by one of the defendants in the sweeps, which the county later settled for an undisclosed sum. When he bought drugs, Mr. Coleman said, 'I would put them in my sock, and write down the time and the date, and if I had a street name, first name, subject in a green pickup, whatever I had -- because I didn't know none of these people.' Whatever he had to go on, he said, 'I wrote on my leg.' Mr. Coleman was less than categorical when asked in the civil case whether he stood by the truthfulness of his earlier testimony. 'That can be questionable,' he said in his deposition. 'I mean, I have read over my testimony, and some of that stuff in there is, like, totally out in left field.' Lawyers for the defendants say there is a name for that patch of field. They call it perjury."

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State Of Texas Finally Opens Investigation Into Tulia Travesty

The State of Texas is opening an investigation into the false arrests and entrapment which took place in Tulia, Texas in 1999. The Austin American-Statesman reported on August 28, 2002 ( "Cornyn To Begin Inquiry Into Tulia Drug Arrests") that "Texas Attorney General John Cornyn has announced that he will begin an investigation into a 1999 drug sweep in Tulia that resulted in the arrest of 37 African Americans, about 30 percent of the town's black male population, and was criticized by civil rights groups. 'There has been some confusion over whether there even was an ongoing investigation,' Cornyn told The Associated Press. 'I became concerned things had gotten bogged down.' But a spokesman for Cornyn's Democratic rival in the November race for the U.S. Senate said Tuesday that the timing of the investigation suggests Cornyn is playing politics. 'The closer we get to Election Day, the more apparent it is that John Cornyn is concerned about his own record as attorney general,' said Justin Lonon, a spokesman for Democrat Ron Kirk, who has not spoken about the arrests in the Panhandle town during his campaign. 'Imagine how much better off we would be if John Cornyn would have taken action on this issue rather than wait till 70 days before he faced voters.'"

According to the American-Statesman, "In a letter Monday to R. Alexander Acosta, deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division, Cornyn said he has told his staff to open an investigation and has asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to join. Cornyn said he didn't want to interfere with an ongoing federal investigation but said a state review is needed to see if any Texas laws were broken. In his letter, Cornyn asked that state investigators be allowed to review the federal case. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the federal investigation is still open and declined further comment."

Many are skeptical of the timing of the state's investigation. As the New York Times reported on August 28, 2002 ( "Investigation Opened In Case Criticized By Rights Groups"), "Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo attorney who represents several of the Tulia defendants, said the investigation is long overdue. 'We have demanded an investigation for well over a year now,' Blackburn said. 'However, it's one thing to investigate, it's another to take real action. And Mr. Cornyn is in a position to take action. His office needs to take over these cases and see to it that some justice finally starts getting done.' 'It's about time,' state Rep. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Monday night. 'He's being very political. Where was he when it was going on?' The case has drawn national media attention in recent weeks with Cornyn running for U.S. Senate. The Republican said Monday his decision to open an investigation during his campaign was a coincidence."

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Charges Dropped Against Tulia Resident; Evidence Proves Defendant Was Miles Away At Time Of Alleged Offense

Charges were dropped against one of the last remaining defendants yet to stand trial on charges arising from the infamous Tulia drug sting. As the Amarillo Globe-News reported on April 10, 2002 ( "Newly Uncovered Evidence Frees Defendant In Tulia Drug Sting"), "One of the last defendants from the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting was freed Tuesday on newly uncovered evidence that put her in Oklahoma City at the time she allegedly sold illegal drugs."

According to the Globe-News, "Tonya Michelle White, 33, was expected to go on trial Tuesday for allegedly selling cocaine to an undercover agent Tom Coleman. That won't happen after an emergency grand jury took one hour to decide not to indict White. The hearing came after District Attorney Terry McEachern received new evidence that showed White made bank transactions and phone calls within hours of the alleged 10:15 a.m. Oct. 9, 1998, drug deal with Coleman."

The Globe-News noted that "White was one of 46 defendants - 39 of whom are black - who were indicted in July 1999 after an 18-month undercover investigation that sparked a firestorm of controversy. White was not arrested until last year, when she turned herself over to authorities, and she was later released on a $25,000 bond. Fellow defendant Zury Bossett remains to be tried in the case." According to the Globe-News, "White's attorney, Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo, said the evidence proved it was more than a minor inconsistency. 'Now we know it's ( the case ) a total lie,' he said. 'To say it's an inconsistency is like saying the Empire State Building is kind of big.'"

Blackburn was able to elaborate on the case in an article in the New York Times on April 12, 2002 ( "Drug Charge Dropped In Case Criticized By Rights Groups"): "Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer for Ms. White, said the charge against her that was dismissed on Tuesday further undermined the credibility of the undercover agent in the Tulia operation, Tom Coleman. In nearly every case, Mr. Coleman was the lone witness and provided the only evidence in winning convictions. One case has been dropped because of false identification. Critics say Mr. Coleman operated with almost no oversight. Former colleagues described him in documents in a dispute over custody of his children as a compulsive liar. Mr. Coleman has also been charged with misdemeanor theft of gas from a government pump while he was a sheriff's deputy. 'This is the first time that we have proven through direct evidence that he made up an accusation against someone,' Mr. Blackburn said of the White case. Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation known as the Tulia law that prohibits convicting a defendant solely on the testimony of an undercover agent."

People involved with the Tulia defendants are hopeful for more positive outcomes. As the Times reported, "Mr. Blackburn said the White case could provide grounds to overturn other convictions. Already, national groups like the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union have gotten involved. Vanita Gupta, a spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said her group was representing two defendants in their appeals and had found lawyers in Washington or New York for the other 18 defendants who are in prison."

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Swisher County Settles Civil Rights Suit In Billy Wafer Case

Attorneys are not commenting on the settlement reached in a civil rights suit stemming from the Tulia travesty. The Amarillo Globe-News reported on Oct. 20, 2001 ( "Tulia Man's Civil Rights Suit Nets Settlement") that "Attorneys for plaintiff Billy Wafer and defendants Tom Coleman, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart and Swisher County reached a settlement in Wafer's lawsuit and the case was dismissed from U.S. District Court, according to court records." No details of the settlement are available. As the Globe-News noted, "Jeff Blackburn, one of Wafer's attorneys, said he could not comment on details of the agreement because of a no-comment clause in the settlement."

In spite of the no-comment clause, Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter gave some details to the media. "Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter said Friday he couldn't comment on the term of the agreement because the county had yet to receive documents detailing the terms of the settlement. Keeter was able to say that the plaintiffs admitted no wrongdoing and agreed to the settlement on the advice of attorneys. 'The Texas Association of Counties risk management pool recommended we make this agreement, and we thought it was best for everyone involved to agree,' Keeter said."

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'Never Again' Rally In Tulia Draws Activists, Reformers From Around Nation

A Freedom Ride -- a 36 hour bus ride from Austin to Tulia with press events and demonstrations along the way -- organized by the Texas Network of Reform Groups was held July 22, 2001. The event led up to the "Never Again" Rally and Vigil in Tulia, TX that evening organized by the Tulia-based Friends of Justice. Other participants include the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and Common Sense for Drug Policy, along with LULAC, the NAACP and ACLU. The rally in Tulia July 22-23, 2001 was held to protest the arrest of dozens of African-Americans on bogus drug charges two years earlier -- 15% of the African-American population of this low-income, rural Texas community. (For more background information on the Tulia travesty, click here.) (You can also click here for a streaming video by the Kunstler Foundation about Tulia.)

The Dallas Morning News reported on July 23, 2001 ( "Rally Held To Protest Drug Bust") that "A crowd of about 350 people rallied peacefully in a Tulia park Sunday night to protest a 1999 drug bust they say was racially motivated." The story quotes Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas ACLU and a speaker at the rally, saying "'We need to challenge the drug policy that led to what happened in Tulia two years ago. Tulia has become a symbol of what's wrong with our drug policy. It's got to be a collective effort, and every one of us counts.'"

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on July 23, 2001 ( "Freedom Ride Hits Tulia") that though the rally was peaceful and orderly, "Police occasionally circled the block, and about 35 officers, including a Department of Public Safety riot team, waited at police headquarters." The Amarillo Globe-News reported July 23, 2001 ( "Rally Commemorates Arrests") explained that "The high number of people expected at the park and the tension from the controversy over the Tulia arrest put local law enforcement on alert." The Amarillo paper quoted Tulia Police Department Lt. Joe Bill Dempsey on the police presence, "'We're going to be out here because we don't want anything to get out of hand. We don't expect any problems and we're going to be as accommodating as possible, but we're going to be prepared.'"

Attempts to intimidate the protesters began on the Freedom Ride itself. According to the Amarillo news story, "The event kicked off with a 'Freedom Ride' from Austin with two buses carrying supporters to a vigil outside the Formby and Wheeler Units in Plainview, where participants protested the number of nonviolent offenders in the prisons. The vigil became a little tense as Assistant Warden Greg Franklin confronted the protesters, demanding that the protesters move to another area and stop videotaping the facility. Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy Reform [sic], downplayed the incident and instead chose to focus on the message of the vigil. 'We simply had a disagreement, and I think it was a fairly cordial one,' Zeese said. 'We wanted to get the message out to all the nonviolent drug offenders in there that someone is taking up their cause. I think we were successful in that.'"

The incident at Tulia in 1999 spurred some in the Texas Legislature to act, and reforms were passed in the 2001 session. The Texas Observer did an excellent interview with Texas State Representative Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, who "deserves much of the credit" for passage of two of the 'Tulia' bills: "Police must now corrobate evidence collected by undercover informants in drug stings; and law enforcement agencies now have easier access to the disciplinary records of potential employees, making it harder for rogue cops to hop from job to job with no accountability." Click here to read "A Good Shepherd," July 20, 2001, Texas Observer, in the MAPINC archive.

As the University of Texas-Austin's Daily Texan reported on June 26, 2001 ( "Freedom Rides Scheduled For Late July"):
"Activists and reformers have labeled the bust and the subsequent trials at which most suspects were given harsh sentences 'ethnic cleansing' of the city's black citizens.
"The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have filed a joint lawsuit against the undercover agent, the sheriff and the district attorney. The case, which has received national attention, is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice."

William Harrell, executive director of the ACLU's Texas chapter, "said that in the aftermath of the Tulia drug sting, at least eight more incidents of racial targeting were reported in Texas. 'The struggle in Tulia is constant. There are still 20 people in jail who are innocent of the crimes they are accused of,' Harrell said. 'This is madness. Innocent people of color, who are poor, are being abused systematically.'

More information on the Tulia event is available on the Friends of Justice page by clicking here.

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