Tulia, Texas: Scenes From a Drug War

February 13, 2002

In the tiny town of Tulia, Texas two years ago, 43 suspects were arrested on charges of selling small amounts ofcocaine, in the biggest drug sting in local history. All but three of the 43 defendants were black More than tenpercent of the African-American community of the town of 5,000 were arrested in a drug sting conducted by a singleundercover officer with no corroborating evidence. In some cases, hometown juries later meted out sentences rangingfrom 20 years to more than 300 years.

In Tulia, set on the high plains of the Texas panhandle, local officials declared the operation a stunning success.In all, 22 of the defendants were sent to prison while others received probation. The undercover agent at the centerof the operation, Tom Coleman, was even named by the state as lawman of the year. Coleman based the raid on claimslike resident Billy Wafer, a forklift driver, sold him cocaine at a local convenience store. But Wafer’s employertestified that Mr. Wafer was at work at the time Coleman said the drug deal took place.

But was this operation, once hailed as a victory in the war on drugs, actually a war on blacks?

On October 2000, relatives of those indicted joined the ACLU, NAACP and the William Moses Kunstler Fund for RacialJustice to file a formal complaint with the Department of Justice against the Panhandle Regional Narcotics TaskForce, the controlling agency in charge of the drug sting. We turn now to a documentary created by the Emily andSarah Kunstler for the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.


  • "Tulia, Texas: Scenes from a Drug War."

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