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News ::
03 Sep 2003

By Richard Wales
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Sept. 4, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Richard Wales

In late August, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was forced to reverse a racist
atrocity when he pardoned the 35 Black people from Tulia who were still in jail or facing charges. Perry said that he was influenced by
questions about the testimony of under cover agent Tom Coleman. But he
was also feeling the heat of a media, legal and popular campaign to
free these victims.

Some 46 people, 39 of them Black, were originally arrested in a 1999
drug "sting" operation in Tulia. Some 38 Black defendants were
convicted on trumped-up drug charges on the strength of Coleman's

The FBI recovered no cash, drugs or weapons when its agents searched
the homes. Of the other three convicted, one is on deferred probation
and two others were ineligible for pardons because of other

This case is a story to be added to a long list that reveals the racist nature of the criminal justice system and the ingrained racism in U.S. society.

A week after the arrests, Tulia's local newspaper, the Sentinel, ran
this headline: "Tulia's Streets Cleared of Garbage," referring to the
Black people who had been framed and arrested.

Now the entire public is aware that Tom Coleman is a racist liar the
local police were using as an informant. But Coleman couldn't do it
singlehandedly. District attorneys had to present these cases before
judges and juries.

After the first few tried were sentenced to from 12 to 99 years in
prison, some defendants pleaded guilty to avoid such long terms. They
still received sentences of up to eight years.

The 35 are now pardoned, but not just from the governor's good will.
Credit instead Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo, Texas, lawyer working with
the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Blackburn has spent thousands of hours
and thousands of dollars of his own money in seeking justice for his

Credit the Pacifica radio network that has spent many hours publicizing the atrocities over its listener-sponsored radio stations. Credit the series by Black commentary writer Bob Herbert that ran over the better part of a year in the New York Times.

This story has crept into the consciousness of increasing numbers of
people over the last two to three years, bringing pressure on officials like Gov. Perry. It should never have taken this long to correct what one racist cop did--a cop who had been fired from a previous law enforcement position for misconduct involving theft and abuse.

That 10 percent of the Black population of any town could be
prosecuted, let alone found guilty, is a racist atrocity.

After Perry issued the pardons, defense attorneys filed a federal
civil-rights lawsuit in Amarillo's federal district court. It names
more than 40 defendants, including the drug task force that supervised
the sting and every county belonging to the task force.

Blackburn, one of the lawyers who filed the suit, said he is seeking
compensation and justice for violation of the constitutional rights of
his clients, Tonya White and Zury Bossett.

"This lawsuit is going to get done what it needs to get done,"
Blackburn said. "In terms of bringing true accountability, the real
wrongdoers in this case have got to pay for what they did. They've got
to pay in a large enough amount that they won't do it again."

And there are many people who believe that if there were real justice
in Texas, many of these police officials would face criminal charges
for depriving people of their freedom.

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not
allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
NY 10011; via e-mail: ww (at) Subscribe
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