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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, July 30, 2002




Shocking Drug Bust in Tulia, Texas

Bob Herbert of the Times recaps a shocking drug bust in Tulia. Briefly, in July 1999, 43 people in Tulia (pop 5000) were arrested as drug dealers, essentially on the word of one undercover cop. Most of those arrested were black, and suspicions that the local police had targeted the black community were rampant. The national media ignored this story for a year, but now it is getting some attention. The ACLU, the NAACP, and various drug-law reform groups have been involved.

For additional information beyond Herbert's column, CNN has a piece from Oct. 10, 2000. The Austin Chronicle ran a long, detailed piece called "The Color of Justice". Perhaps the most interesting side character to emerge from this story is Tulia school board member Gary Gardner. Gardner looks and, according to the reporter, talks like a racist redneck sent over from Central Casting. However, he has tussled with local law enforcement for years on behalf of his own Mexican workers, and was one of the first to criticize these arrests, reminding us yet again of the old rule that if you are in a hurry to make generalizations, you are in a hurry to make mistakes.

The Media Awareness Project, "a worldwide network dedicated to drug policy reform" devotes space to this and provides several interesting stories:

The Texas Observer, a small independent newspaper, standing tall as they watch their story go national. Could be any blogger.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on the fate of several bills that were introduced in the Texas State Legislature in response to the Tulia arrests. And here is a second reform. The second reform was an attempt to ban uncorroborated testimony by a peace officer. This was watered down to "informant", but advocates are in a "half a loaf" mode in this story.

And could we end without a nod to Arianna Huffington? She denounces the whole thing.

An intriguing theory mentioned in one of these stories explains a peculiar discrepancy: The arrests were often for powdered cocaine, but most of the users were crack smokers. The allegation? That the undercover cop bought a few bags of powdered coacaine, cut them (OK, diluted them, get with the party) into many bags of now-weak cocaine, and introduced them as evidence. Motive? Cash. He is reimbursed for many bags of coke, when his real expense is a few bags of coke and a lots of baby powder and wall gypsum. It would sound crazy if another undercover informant had not been busted for exactly that.

So, did the system work? These arrests seem to be a disasterous confluence of a drug war run amok and some local rednecks run amok. Is the sytem working now? Well, there have been minor changes in the drug laws, the Governor is being pressured to pardon some people, and even the people (and prosecutor) in Tulias seem to be wondering just what they have done. But the situation is an outrage.

And what do we do? Nathan Newman has a short post on this subject. I'm not interested in approaching this as a "Right vs. Left" question; I think we are talking about "Right vs. Wrong". But Newman is an activist lawyer, and may have some good ideas about who to write to, and support. Go bug him.

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