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In the summer of 1999, in the tiny west Texas town of Tulia, thirty-nine people, almost all of them black, were arrested and charged with dealing powdered cocaine. The operation, a federally-funded investigation performed in cooperation with the local authorities, was based on the work of one notoriously unreliable undercover officer. At trial, the prosecution relied almost solely on the uncorroborated, and contradictory, testimony of that officer, Tom Coleman. Despite the flimsiness of the evidence against them, virtually all of the defendants were convicted and given sentences as high as ninety-nine years. Tom Coleman was named a Texas Lawman of the Year for his work.

Tulia is the story of this town, the bust, the trials, and the heroic legal battle that ultimately led to the reversal of the convictions in the summer of 2003. Laws have been changed in Texas as a result of the scandal, and the defendants have earned a measure of bittersweet redemption. But the story is much bigger than the tale of just one bust. As Tulia makes clear, these events are the latest chapter in a story with themes as old as the country itself. It is a gripping, marvelously well-told tale about injustice, race, poverty, hysteria, and desperation in rural America.

Published: PublicAffairs on Sep 12, 2006
ISBN: 9780786735464
List price: $19.99
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Coming from a small South Arkansas town, I had mixed emotions reading this book. As a licensed attorney, the obvious abuses of criminal and constitutional law are indeed disturbing. I am not without empathy however for the jury members and town folks of Tulia, whose town and way of life have been irrevocably damaged by the drug trade and the small town hoodlums who participate in it. Despite the authors best efforts, the vast majority (if not all) of the defendants in the Tulia sting are certainly not "innocent". They may have been "not guilty" of the particular charges concocted by the crooked narc, but when your defense is "I sold him crack, not powdered cocaine", it's a little hard to gin up sympathy. When the author tries to paint one of the defendants as a sympathetic character, he does so by noting that "they only found a single rock of crack in their search." Bottom line, however, is that regardless of the guilt or innocence of the defendants, frontier justice and judicial abuse can never be countenanced. Drugs have destroyed many small towns across the South and especially those communities harboring large, destitute minority populations. Hopelessness coupled with lack of opportunity and topped off with low moral character is a witches brew for just the sort of thing evidenced by Tulia and all the characters in this real life drama. Finally, it should be kept in mind that the author telling this story is an admitted member of the "left leaning media" (his own words). While many of the facts contained in the book are not in dispute, I have no doubt that they are presented in a biased fashion. Just as hearing one side of the story rarely gives a true picture, I imagine the same story told by members of law enforcement might sound somewhat different. The defendants might not be viewed quite so sympathetically. The residents of Tulia might not be painted to be the drooling, racist morons that the author many times paints them to be. The ravages of the drug culture might paint efforts of the local legal authorities in a better light.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The author wrote the Texas Observer article that broke this story open. (A large percentage of the black population of a small Texas town was arrested, and many were convicted, for dealing in illegal drugs on the basis of one screwy problem cop's word and blatantly unrealistic charges)The book combines a really nice bit of history with the story, which is incredible and which mostly turns out right. The (sort of unspoken) good old boy racism in the middle of nowhere Texas is really disturbing.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.

Reviews

Coming from a small South Arkansas town, I had mixed emotions reading this book. As a licensed attorney, the obvious abuses of criminal and constitutional law are indeed disturbing. I am not without empathy however for the jury members and town folks of Tulia, whose town and way of life have been irrevocably damaged by the drug trade and the small town hoodlums who participate in it. Despite the authors best efforts, the vast majority (if not all) of the defendants in the Tulia sting are certainly not "innocent". They may have been "not guilty" of the particular charges concocted by the crooked narc, but when your defense is "I sold him crack, not powdered cocaine", it's a little hard to gin up sympathy. When the author tries to paint one of the defendants as a sympathetic character, he does so by noting that "they only found a single rock of crack in their search." Bottom line, however, is that regardless of the guilt or innocence of the defendants, frontier justice and judicial abuse can never be countenanced. Drugs have destroyed many small towns across the South and especially those communities harboring large, destitute minority populations. Hopelessness coupled with lack of opportunity and topped off with low moral character is a witches brew for just the sort of thing evidenced by Tulia and all the characters in this real life drama. Finally, it should be kept in mind that the author telling this story is an admitted member of the "left leaning media" (his own words). While many of the facts contained in the book are not in dispute, I have no doubt that they are presented in a biased fashion. Just as hearing one side of the story rarely gives a true picture, I imagine the same story told by members of law enforcement might sound somewhat different. The defendants might not be viewed quite so sympathetically. The residents of Tulia might not be painted to be the drooling, racist morons that the author many times paints them to be. The ravages of the drug culture might paint efforts of the local legal authorities in a better light.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The author wrote the Texas Observer article that broke this story open. (A large percentage of the black population of a small Texas town was arrested, and many were convicted, for dealing in illegal drugs on the basis of one screwy problem cop's word and blatantly unrealistic charges)The book combines a really nice bit of history with the story, which is incredible and which mostly turns out right. The (sort of unspoken) good old boy racism in the middle of nowhere Texas is really disturbing.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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