Justice for Victims of Drug War Racism

This week, a $5 million settlement is awarded to the 46 black residents of Tulia, TX, who were arrested and jailed on fabricated drug charges by a crooked, racist cop; and drug "czar" John Walters speaks out against marijuana chewers in Nevada, where a pending initiative may legalize adult possession and use of the plant.

March 11- The New York Times reports: Five years after 46 people, almost all of them black, were arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Tex., their ordeal will draw to a close today with the announcement of a $5 million settlement in their civil suit and the disbandment of a federally financed 26-county narcotics task force responsible for the arrests.

The case attracted national attention because the number of people charged literally decimated the small town's black population. It also gained notice because the arrests were entirely based on the work of an undercover narcotics agent who has been accused of racism and perjury. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas pardoned the Tulia defendants in August, after a court hearing last March exonerated them.

"This is undoubtedly that last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice," said Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer in Amarillo who represented the people arrested five years ago in the civil suit. "With the abolition of the task force, it completely closes the circle on what was done."

Mr. Blackburn added that the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force failed adequately to supervise the agent, Tom Coleman, in its eagerness to win battles in the war on drugs.

Mr. Coleman, who was named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia, will go on trial on perjury charges in May. He has pleaded not guilty. Jon Mark Hogg, a lawyer for Mr. Coleman, declined to comment on the civil settlement.

At a hearing last year in Tulia, Mr. Coleman testified that although most of the drug transactions he swore to were in public places, he did not wear a recording device, arrange for video surveillance, ask anyone to observe the deals or fingerprint the plastic bags containing the drugs.

Instead, he said, he jotted down information on his leg. No drugs, weapons or large sums of cash were found in the mass arrest in 1999.

Mr. Coleman conceded that he frequently used a racial epithet, but he denied that he was a racist.

Vanita Gupta, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also represents the plaintiffs along with the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson, said it was a mistake to focus only on Mr. Coleman's actions.

"The task force is ultimately culpable for what happened in Tulia," Ms. Gupta said. "They hired, supervised and sponsored Tom Coleman's activity in the 18 months he was operating there."

"It's not that Tom Coleman was simply a rogue officer," Ms. Gupta added. "The problem is that federally funded narcotics task forces operate nationwide as rogue task forces because they are utterly unaccountable to any oversight mechanism."

March 12- The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports: The nation's drug czar described as foolhardy Thursday the latest Nevada initiative to legalize marijuana. John Walters, in Las Vegas to push for a crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs, said legalizing marijuana is "not an area for legitimate debate."

Walters, who oversees all federal anti-drug programs and spending, said studies have shown that 60 percent of the 7 million Americans who need treatment for addiction are dependent on marijuana. Walters also said people are killing each other by driving under the influence of the drug, which is smoked or chewed (ed. note: chewed???) for its euphoric effect.

"Legalizing any marijuana possession for consumption is fundamentally detrimental," he said. The Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, established in Nevada this year by the national Marijuana Policy Project, will try to make Nevada the first state in the nation to legalize possession of marijuana.

Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, contended people seeking treatment for marijuana addiction were forced into it.

"They were arrested for possession and offered treatment or jail," he said. "It's Orwellian to the point of being creepy, and it's misleading to the public."

Candice Kidd, director of the WestCare women's campus, said a greater problem in Nevada is methamphetamine, a stimulant that increases energy and decreases appetite.

"Methamphetamine seems to be the drug of choice for a lot of women," she said, adding 90 percent of the women in her programs are addicted to the drug.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.


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