Texans would prefer to think of the Tulia incident as a rare occurrence - an unfortunate indication of the bigotry that occasionally haunts the backwater recesses of Southern society. In contrast, Tulia, Texas: Scenes From the Drug War openly explores the incendiary racism employed at every level of American society - from local law enforcement to state-level justice systems, and, more significantly, to the questionable standards of investigative conduct practiced by federally funded task forces engaged in the ongoing war on drugs. The 27-minute Tulia documentary, co-produced by the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice and Off Center Productions, screens at the University of Texas Law School in Austin on Thursday, November 6.
In the summer of 1999, a wave of drug-related arrests shocked the tiny hamlet of Tulia in the Texas panhandle. In a single day, local sheriffs rounded up 46 people, charged them with selling narcotics to an undercover agent, and railroaded them through the Texas justice system, resulting in a massive conviction rate despite a total lack of evidence. Thirty-five of these alleged cocaine dealers were black, a figure that equates to roughly 15 percent of Tulia's total African-American population. Convictions were based solely on the testimony of one man, a federal drug task force agent named Tom Coleman who possessed no evidence at all - no photos, tape, fingerprints, or witnesses of any kind.
| TULIA, TEXAS: SCENES FROM THE DRUG WAR |
Thursday, November 6
University of Texas Law School
727 E. Dean Keeton St., Austin
The ACLU and NAACP filed a joint complaint with Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and after four years of pressure, a hearing was finally held to determine Coleman's credibility. A state district judge found Coleman to be an unreliable witness
and requested new trials for the defendants. Finally, in August 2003, all but 11 of the 46 people arrested in the Tulia sweep received unconditional pardons from the governor. Tulia personalizes the casualties of the drug war - the accused, their families, and members of the community at large. It also reveals the depth of injury one corrupt cop can inflict in
a single day - thanks in no small part to the level of anti-drug hysteria in our society. A discussion led by Amarillo-based attorney Jeff Blackburn, legal council for the pardoned Tulia defendants, will follow the screening.
Tulia screens as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, presented by the National Lawyers Guild at the UT Law School. — Anjali Gupta