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Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Bob Herbert at a Crossroads in Tulia

Monday, Bob Herbert delivered yet another in his contining series of columns on the applling drug busts in Tulia, Texas. He grapples with the role of the Justice Department in sorting this mess out. The arrests occurred in the summer of 1999, and Herbert duly notes that Clinton was President at the time. By the summer of 2000, "Tulia" had become enough of a rallying cry that there were (not highly publicized) protests at the one year anniversary, although the national media did not pick this story up until October 2000. I have a lot of links in my archives, if Blogger will cooperate.

So, Herbert tells us that a Justice department investigation was opened under Bill Clinton, and wonders how much progress we might expect from that investigation when the current President is the former Governor of Texas, John Ashcroft is Attorney general, and the Republican candidate for the Senate is the Texas state attorney general. Evidently, according to a Justice Dept spokesperson, "while the criminal investigation has been closed, the Tulia matter is still under "review" by the Civil Rights Division."

Left unasked is why the Democrats did not query then-candidate Bush during the campaign. The NAACP was famously denouncing the lack of a hate-crimes bill in Texas - why did they not focus on this?

Hence, Herbert at a crossroads. There are competing story lines regarding Tulia, and I do want to re-emphasize to those with delicate blood pressure, I find the situation in Tulia outrageous. The story line Herbert seems to be settling on is "racist cops and evil Republicans bust blacks", and he salutes the yeoman work done by the NAACP to rectify this. However, just a few moments research indicates that drug-law reformers are also very concerned by Tulia. Their story line is "drug war run amuck ensnares black community". The DEA was giving states like Texas block grants to hire cops and bust drug dealers, politicians all wanted to be "tough on drugs", and away we went. My own guess is that we had silence from the Democrats in 2000 becasue they did not want to wade into a drug morass and appear to be soft on crime. Just One Guess, I am not a Dem strategist. Surprised?

Regardless, I happen to lean towards that story line, as I think my initial post would suggest if I could ever find the darn thing. And, for those of you with a particular mind-set, the "crazy drug war" story can certainly be written to include evil Republicans. But, my question for Herbert is, what is the quickest path towards restoring justice in Tulia? We have had a bit of thunder from the right on Tulia. A broader coaliton of table-pounders could be assembled if Herbert expanded his story-line a bit. So, the crossroads. Score political points, or justice now?

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