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2000-10-03

Tulia Texas Part III: Residents Rally On the Governor’s Mansion

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When George W. Bush first announced he was running for presidential office, questions started to swirl about whether or not he had used cocaine. He denied committing adultery but he refused to say whether or not he had used drugs. Gore said he had smoked Marijuana. While the question of adultery is personal, the question of drugs points to something larger. An issue of public policy. Hundreds of thousands of people are imprisoned in this country for nonviolent offenses. 90,000 people in Texas alone, George Bush’s state.

Last week a busload of adults and children from the small town of Tulia, Texas embarked on a "Journey for Justice". They rallied on the capital steps and at Governor George Bush’s mansion in Austin to protest Texas’ drug laws and tell the public about what has been happening to the African American residents in Tulia.

Their complaint? An 18 month drug sting conducted solely by undercover agent Tom Coleman that resulted that resulted in 43 arrests–40 of them African American. The sting eventually put 16% of Tulia’s black population in prison for allegedly selling or delivering Coleman powder cocaine.

Apart from the race of the defendants being of concern, there were other troubling aspects of the Tulia Drug bust: The lack of evidence in Coleman’s testimony. Agent Coleman did not wear a wire during any of the alleged transactions. No video surveillance was done, no second officer was available to corroborate his reports, and in most cases, there were no witnesses at all. In spite of this and other glaring inconsistencies, Swisher County juries began handing down sentences last winter. After the few prison trials resulted in prison terms up to 99 years, it didn’t take long for the defendants to start following their count appointed lawyers’ advice and plea-bargaining to accept a lesser charge.

Guests:

  • Jeff Blackburn, Cooperating Council for the ACLU, which just brought a lawsuit against the District Attorney and Sheriffs of Swisher County. The William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice has set up a Tulia relief fund. Call: 212.539.8441.
  • Sammy Barra, attended the march and spoke at the rally in front of the Governor’s mansion about the incarceration of his two brothers.
  • Lawanda Smith, was arrested twice. She is a mother of two is presently caring for four other children, whose parents are in prison due to the drug sting. She also spoke at the rally last week.

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