Pubdate: Fri, 29 Sep 2000
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 2000 Associated Press
Cited: Journey for Justice:
Drug Policy Forum of Texas:
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TULIA, Texas (AP) - A much-criticized drug sting that raised accusations of
racism and prompted a tax increase has angered residents of this Northwest
Texas town, with a number taking their protest to the state capital.

The bust that landed 43 people - 40 of whom were black - in jail last year
has also drawn interest by the American Civil Liberties Union and the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

A group of Tulia residents is leaving Friday morning for the noon CDT

``The primary purpose of our trip is to empower the people of Tulia who
have been directly impacted by the drug sting of 1999,'' Tulia resident
Alan Bean told the Amarillo Globe-News in Friday's editions.

``The other is to dramatize the impact on the families that the drug sting
affected,'' said Bean, who planned to attend the rally. ``They have lost a
parent, both parents, brothers and sisters.''

Participants in a so-called ``Journey for Justice'', sponsored by the
Houston-based Drug Policy Forum of Texas, began their trek last week.
Supporters were also scheduled to meet the Panhandle group for the rally on
the Capitol steps and in front of Gov. George W. Bush's mansion.

The July 1999 arrests raised tensions in Tulia, which is home to about 237
blacks, or about 5 percent of the city's approximately 5,000 residents.
Some residents contended the police department and its undercover narcotics
officer, Tom Coleman, targeted specific members of the community in the

Convictions that followed an 18-month undercover operation conducted by
Coleman have rested largely on the officer's own testimony.

Lawyers for the ACLU of Texas were considering legal action against Tulia
law officers and prosecutors in connection with alleged civil rights

The Rev. Charles Kiker, who said he believes that blacks were unjustly
targeted, planned to address the rally.

``I do not condone drug use,'' said Kiker. ``I've been invited to speak ...
simply to describe what has happened on the war on drugs in Tulia. We want
to have more sane, more just, humane laws concerning drug laws and abuse.''

Swisher County taxpayers, about three months after the bust, had a
5.8-percent property tax increase because of costs related to the
operation, County Judge Harold Keeter has said.

County District Attorney Terry McEachern, who prosecuted many of the drug
cases, has contended that the operation was not racially motivated and that
he supports citizens' rights to voice their opinions in Austin.

``They have a right of freedom of speech, and I'll defend that right,''
said McEachern.

Bean said representatives from the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial
Justice, based in New York City have attended at least one drug trial and
also plan to attend the rally.

Alan Robison, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, said he
wants to raise awareness of drug policies.

``Our policy of drug prohibition is literally causing more damage to our
society than the prohibitive drugs themselves could ever cause,'' he said.
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MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst