Follow That Story -- "There Are Other Tulias in Texas" -- WOL Speaks with the Amarillo NAACP 10/13/00

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Last week, the Week Online reported on the shocking events in Tulia, Texas, where an undercover drug investigation by Swisher County law enforcement officials led to the indictment of more than 15% of the town's small African-American community and Texas-sized prison sentences for those convicted or pleading guilty (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/154.html#tulia).

As we reported last week, the ACLU of Texas has filed the first of a slew of civil suits against Tulia authorities. Now, the nearby Amarillo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has announced that it is filing its own complaint with the US Department of Justice this week.

The Week Online spoke with Amarillo NAACP president Alphonso Vaughn this week to get an update on the situation.

WOL: What action are you taking regarding the situation in Tulia?

Vaughn: We have just today filed a Title Six complaint with the Justice Department Office of Compliance. Title Six allows any individual or organization to file discrimination complaints against any organizational entity that receives federal funds, as Swisher County does. We are alleging discrimination throughout the undercover investigation and subsequent prosecutions in Tulia, and we are urging Justice to look into this. This complaint formally asks Justice to do so.

WOL: Last week, there were press reports that the Amarillo chapter was seeking permission from the national NAACP to join in the ACLU lawsuit. Have you received permission?

Vaughn: Permission is still pending. We've been assembling information and transcripts that we believe are relevant, but the process is not complete. We do not, however, anticipate any problem getting permission. It just takes some time.

WOL: Other than the legal front, what else has your organization been doing about this case?

Vaughn: We've been working with the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice (http://www.kunstler.org), and I want to give them some credit. Randy Credico from Kunstler has been here for weeks to keep folks together. He's been pushing this and promoting it across the country. And, of course, we are working with the ACLU. We've had two rallies now, one in Amarillo two weeks ago, where two busloads of Tulia residents came up. Last Sunday we had a rally to counter a rally in support of law enforcement in Tulia.

(Ed: Randy and the Kunstler Fund have been key mobilizers of opposition to the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York state.)

WOL: How did those two rallies compare?

Vaughn: We had over a 100 people at our rally; the pro-police rally had maybe 150-200 people, so this is still support for this in Swisher County. I will say, though, that our rally was more racially diverse than theirs. We also have press conferences scheduled in Austin and Amarillo with the ACLU and the Kunstler Fund. All the media outlets you can think of have been here.

WOL: Are you getting any national media attention?

Vaughn: Yes. ABC's 20-20 news program has been here. All I can tell you is that a program about Tulia will air within the next two weeks.

WOL: Has Gov. Bush responded?

Vaughn: We have been in contact. Bush officials say they will be looking into it. Also, when the Tulia delegation did a vigil at the state capitol, we spoke to Speaker Laney, so the legislature is aware of it and will hopefully be working very diligently on the case. This is a statewide problem because to a large degree there is very little oversight or monitoring of what goes on with these police and sheriff's departments. The level of confidence in law enforcement has been eroding. There are other Tulias in Texas. In many cases in these small towns, you get a sheriff or prosecutor with no experience, no background, no temperament for that sort of job. But they are basically left alone as long as they keep the wrong element out of the front yards of the white community.

WOL: How does race play into this?

Vaughn: You can say that this is racial judicial genocide focusing on African-Americans. If you want to eradicate a community, these days the drug war is the best way. But there are other issues overlaying this. Word from the black community in Tulia is that they've never had any problems with race because it's historically been a very segmented and separate community. But recently when young people began interracial dating, this caused tensions. There are probably three or four dealers in Tulia and everyone knows who they are. This guy took in the entire community.

WOL: What about the young people in prison because of this? Are there efforts to get them back home?

Vaughn: There is some movement on that front, but I can't tell you more right now. We will have an announcement on this very soon. I can say that we have had donations of financial resources and attorneys from all over volunteering their services to help with appeals. There will be movement on this.

-- END --
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Issue #155, 10/13/00 Interview with Governor Gary Johnson | US Demands Bolivian Government Be Inflexible in Coca Negotiations | November Coalition Comes to Washington to Accept Human Rights Award | Follow That Story -- "There Are Other Tulias in Texas" -- WOL Speaks with the Amarillo NAACP | Silence of the Wolves: Drug Policy in the Bush and Gore Campaigns | New Study Shows California Leads Nation in Drug Offender Imprisonment | Department of Transportation Calls for Drug Testing Lab Investigation | Media Scan: Salon.com, PBS Frontline | The Reformer's Calendar
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