Editorial: Coddling Kidnappers 5/16/03

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David Borden

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 5/16/03

It only took years for the Texas power structure to admit to the severe miscarriage of justice in Tulia, where over 40 people, mostly African American, were imprisoned as drug dealers on the sole word of an undercover agent. No matter that the small town's economy couldn't possibly have supported 40 drug dealers. And no matter that Officer Coleman had a known history of lying and other lawbreaking. The spotlight had to be shown on the episode over and over before authorities would take any serious action. Truth and glaring evidences of injustice didn't suffice.

It's fair to regard the Tulia imprisonments as the moral equivalent of kidnapping -- human beings for whom there was no credible evidence of guilt were removed from their homes and held against their will for long periods of time, years in many cases. In some ways it was worse than kidnapping; at least with a kidnapper there's a chance of gaining the victim's freedom by paying a ransom. Whereas the Texas criminal justice system had no intention of freeing the Tulia victims unless it was absolutely forced to do so; many it would have kept behind bars for decades, knowing their likely innocence. And kidnapping victims don't lose their reputations, as Tulia's stolen would have suffered had a vigorous national campaign not been mounted on their behalf.

Unfortunately, it's not over. Thirteen of Tulia's kidnapped remain behind bars. Though courts have called for new trials, and prosecutors have asked that charges instead be dropped -- and even though the Senate and the Governor themselves have spoken up on the matter -- still in prison they sit.

The massive admission of state guilt, to the highest levels of the political system, are not quite enough for Gerald Garrett, chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Garrett wants the prisoners to stay where they are until "every case gets a full and entire review" -- or if he doesn't specifically want them to stay behind bars in the meantime, at least he's clearly willing to live with that.

There's an expression used by law-and-order types, "coddling criminals," referring to treatment of lawbreakers or prisoners they perceive or claim to be lenient. In this way of thinking, though, it is the system that is coddling kidnappers. It is just too clear that the convictions of Tulia's remaining 13 prisoners itself were crimes, and every day therefore they remain behind bars is an abomination.

Garrett might not be the enemy, but he is missing the forest for the trees; the freedom of Tulia's unjustly convicted is far more important than the perception of integrity of a system that has been demonstrated to have precious little of it. The only moral course of action for the state of Texas is to free Tulia's remaining kidnapped today.

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Issue #287, 5/16/03 Editorial: Coddling Kidnappers | Illinois Over-the-Counter Syringe Bill Passes House, Awaits Governor's Signature | Moves Continue to Win Freedom for Tulia 13 -- Congress to Take a Look | Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation Delayed -- Fears of United States, Discord in Government Cited | Alert and Clarification: Truth in Trials Act | Vote Now in Two Online Marijuana Decriminalization/Legalization Polls | World Social Thematic Forum to Address Drug Policy, Cartagena, Colombia, Next Month | Countdown to Fairness: Celebrity-Led Rockefeller Drug Law Protest Coming June 4th | Six-Year Anniversary of Esequiel Hernandez Shooting This Week | Newsbrief: Indonesia Quietly Supports Needle Exchanges | Newsbrief: US Functionaries Bluster at Bolivia | Newsbrief: US Invasion Liberates Iraqi Heroin, Cocaine Sales | Newsbrief: You Better Watch Yer Ass in Texas, Boy | Newsbrief: Utah Supreme Court Restricts Random Roadblocks, Again | Newsbrief: Supreme Court to Revisit Roadblock Ruling | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: New Jersey Drug Warrior Prescribes More Aggression | The Reformer's Calendar
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