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"Freedom Rides" in Texas against the racist drug war

by MIKE CORWIN | July 20, 2001 | Page 14

TULIA, Texas--Activists from across the country will go on "Freedom Rides" this month to this small Texas town to protest the racist war on drugs.

Tulia, located in the Texas Panhandle, was the site of one of the most notorious drug stings in recent memory. In the early morning on July 23, 1999, police arrested 43 residents on charges of distributing cocaine and paraded them in front of TV cameras as they took them to the county jail.

Of the 43 people arrested, 40 were Black--amounting to 12 percent of Tulia's Black population. Almost every Black person in town had a relative or friend on the indictment list.

The arrests were based solely on the testimony of a white undercover deputy who worked unsupervised on the streets and had no photos, sound recordings or witnesses to back up his allegations. The deputy, Tom Coleman, allegedly has connections to the Ku Klux Klan and has been called "a compulsive liar" by former coworkers at the Pecos Country Sheriff's Department.

At their trials, eight men were convicted by all-white or nearly all-white juries--and given sentences ranging from 12 years to 99 years. Other defendants, fearing such long sentences, sought plea bargains, with 14 more getting jail time as a result.

These unjust sentences have had a devastating effect on Tulia's Black community, with dozens of children left without their parents, relying on friends and relatives to care for them. Other defendants have lost their jobs.

But people are fighting back. A Tulia-based group called Friends of Justice is planning a "Never Again" rally to mark the two-year anniversary of the arrests, including "Freedom Rides" to take activists by bus to Tulia from cities across the state.

At a recent planning meeting in Austin, participants compared this mobilization to the civil rights struggles of the '60s, with Tulia as the Selma, Ala., for a new generation of antiracist fighters.

"What happened in Tulia shows what's wrong with the drug war," Sammie Barlow, whose two nephews are in jail because of the sting, told Socialist Worker in May. "The drug war is a war on minorities, turning Martin Luther King's dream into a nightmare for most Black Americans."

For more information about the Never Again rally in Tulia on July 23, call 806-995-3353 or visit http://www.drugsense.org/foj. For information on the Freedom Ride bus from Austin call 512-493-7357.

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