The Texas Panhandle town of Tulia gained international notoriety in the summer of 1999 when Swisher County sheriff's deputies swooped down on the town's small black community, arresting 43 people as cocaine dealers and sending many of them into the Texas gulag for years or decades. Forty of those arrested were black, the others had close links to the black community. All of the arrests were the result of unverified undercover work by a sheriff's deputy with serious credibility problems, Tom Coleman. (Coleman was recently fired from another narc job in Dallas County after allegedly sexual harassing one of his informants, then revealing her name to drug suspects after she refused to put out.)
Tulia's black community was literally decimated on July 23, 1999. The 40 blacks arrested constituted more than 10% of the local African-American population. The Texas ACLU and the local NAACP filed a federal civil suit claiming racial discrimination, which is pending. But the bust has also energized and focused the Texas drug reform and social justice communities, much to the chagrin of Swisher County residents and Texas drug warriors alike.
Many folks in Tulia supported local law enforcement then and still support it now. They reelected both the sheriff and the district attorney last year in the midst of the national attention focused on the town by allegations of racial bias in the bust, and they have no problem with the harsh sentences handed down to town "drug dealers." And, boy, do they wish all the bad publicity would fade away.
That's not going to happen just yet. Activists from Tulia, the rest of Texas and around the nation will head to the Panhandle on July 22 to commemorate the bust and demand justice.
"The struggle in Tulia is constant," said Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas ACLU. There are still 20 people in jail who are innocent of the crimes they are accused of," Harrell told the University of Texas student newspaper the Daily Texan. "This is madness. Innocent people of color, who are poor, are being abused systematically."
And not just in Tulia, Harrell said. Since the Tulia bust, at least eight more instances of racially targeted drug busts have been reported in the state, he said.
On July 22, Tulia will reluctantly host a Never Again! rally organized by the Friends of Justice (http://www.drugsense.org/foj/), the self-described "reluctant radicals" from Tulia and surrounding areas outraged by the injustice perpetrated in their community, with the assistance of national drug reform and social justice groups including Common Sense for Drug Policy and the William Moses Kunstler Fund, as well as many players in Texas' burgeoning drug reform movement.
The Texans, organized into the Austin-based Texas Network of Reform Groups (TNRG), will head to Tulia in a "Freedom Ride" from Austin to attend the rally and stir up publicity along the way. The TNRG consists of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Austin NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Indy Media Austin, hemp activists and associated independent drug reformers.
Charles Kiker is a retired Baptist minister and Tulia resident who helped found Friends of Justice. He told the Daily Texan why: "When I saw in the paper that 43 people in the little town of Tulia -- population approximately 5,000 -- had been arrested for selling powder cocaine, I thought, boy, we've got a big drug problem in this little town," Kiker said. "My wife is quite a bit smarter than I am, and her remark was, 'If 43 people are selling drugs in Tulia, who are the buyers?'"
The bust began to "smell bad" when Kiker realized 40 of those arrested were black, Kiker said. Friends of Justice was the result. A barrier-breaking coalition of friends and relatives of those arrested, religious workers and local justice advocates, the Friends' are "a faith-based community called together to Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly," as both their mission statement and their T-shirts note.
A number of national drug policy activists will attend the Never Again! rally, including Common Sense for Drug Policy's Kevin Zeese, former drug war prisoner Dorothy Gaines, the Rev. Edwin Sanders of Nashville's Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, and Mikki Norris, coauthor of "Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War." According to Kevin Zeese, also in attendance will be a delegation of Rockefeller drug law mothers from New York state.
Texas activists who will address the rally include the Texas ACLU's Harrell, Drug Policy Forum of Texas executive director Dr. G. Alan Robison, DPFT president Jerry Epstein, TNRG's Tracey Hayes, the Reverend Sterling Lands of the Greater Calvary Baptist Church in Northeast Austin, and NAACP representatives, including Amarillo chapter head Alphonso Vaughan and Freddy Brookins, Sr., head of Tulia NAACP, formed in the aftermath of the drug bust.
It is summer in the Texas Panhandle, and little moves but the wind across the plains, but the Never Again! rally is certain to raise some dust. "It's pretty quiet now in Tulia, but it won't be on July 22," the Friends' Kiker told the Daily Texan.
Drug reform activists on their way to Tulia will be crossing county lines, state lines and color lines with the intent to incite social justice and democracy. Join them if you can. For information on the Freedom Ride to Tulia, e-mail TNRG's Tracey Hayes at [email protected]. Visit the Friends of Justice web site at http://www.drugsense.org/foj/ and look for the t-shirt link to buy one and raise awareness in your community.
(Learn more about the Tulia situation from "Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War," a 23-minute documentary by the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice. Send your check or money order for $20 payable to The William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, to Tulia Video, c/o Sarah Kunstler, 103 16th St., Brooklyn, NY 11215. Proceeds will go to the Tulia 46 Relief Fund. For further information, call (212) 924-6980, visit http://www.kunstler.org or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]. The video can also be previewed at http://www.soros.org:8080/ramgen/tlc/tulia.rm online.)
Previous DRCNet coverage of Tulia can be viewed online at:
http://www.drcnet.org/wol/154.html#tuliaOther Tulia coverage includes:
Ariana Huffington's commentary on the Tulia Bust