Pubdate: Sat,  1 Dec 2001
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall


Ink May Be Strong Stuff, But It Has Limits.

Exposing a problem or an injustice in the newspaper is a long way from 
solving it or making it right. Exposure is merely one step in what can be a 
long ordeal. You can't climb a mountain without taking the first step, but 
you may discover it is the easiest step of the entire project. One fellow 
wants me to expose Harris County Family Courts: "The amount of cronyism in 
these courts between judges and practicing attorneys is appalling," he said 
in an e-mail message.

Another fellow believes that complete and accurate minutes of meetings are 
important in the board operations of any legitimate organization. He wants 
me to expose how the president of his homeowners association, with a lawyer 
at his side, said that "bare-bone minutes" are more effective in combatting 

Change requires time, climb Those two requests were gleaned from just one 
afternoon's e-mail crop. And, while I am interested in hearing more of what 
both men have to say about their suggested topics, simply exposing cronyism 
in the courts, or conniving in HOA board meetings, won't be nearly enough 
to change either practice.

Someone has to be willing to climb the mountain. Willing to study the rough 
steepness of it in great detail and map out the best route. Willing to pack 
the necessary supplies and equipment. Willing to invest the time and 
energy, face the hazards, weather the storms.

I met a mountain climber a few days ago. His name is Alan Bean. He traveled 
the considerable distance from his home in Tulia, up in the Panhandle, to 
attend a meeting in Winnie.

It wasn't a big meeting, just a few folks gathering to discuss over dinner 
what might be done about some controversial drug task force operations and 
criminal-justice practices in Chambers County.

Tulia, you may recall, became the nation's leading example of controversial 
drug task force operations in the wake of a drug sting on July 23, 1999. 
Some serious flaws in the 18-month investigation were exposed:

The undercover officer picked for the job had limited experience and a 
checkered past. In fact, while he was working the Tulia sting criminal 
charges were filed against him in another county where he previously worked 
for a brief time. Either he was hired without a thorough check into his 
background or task force officials chose to hire him despite his background.

No audio or video surveillance supported the offenses he logged in Tulia, 
and defense attorneys alleged that he faked some evidence and lied on the 
witness stand. Of the 43 people charged, 40 were black, and one lawyer 
pointed out that at the time of the arrests the cops found no drugs and 
none of the defendants had enough money to hire an attorney.

Some defendants, including some first-time offenders who could have been 
eligible for parole, were handed extremely harsh sentences -- 20 years, 30 
years, 99 years ...

The FBI is doing one of its long, drawn-out investigations of Tulia and 
civil rights organizations have filed lawsuits.

Tackling Tulia sting full time There was considerable national media 
exposure of all the problems and questions and errors of the Tulia sting, 
including stories in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the 
20/20 TV show.

And yet all the exposure did not convince authorities to unsting all the 
people who got stung. Many remain in prison. Many other people continue 
getting similar treatment by other drug task forces and the 
criminal-justice system.

That undercover cop at the center of the Tulia controversy went on to work 
for similar operations elsewhere, including a stint with the Chambers 
County Narcotics Task Force.

So Alan Bean, who is a former minister, and some other concerned Tulia 
folks organized the Friends of Justice and now are trying to change things. 
He devotes full time to it. He studies other task force operations and 
confers with other concerned citizens and groups across the state. He talks 
to politicians and organizes rallies.

"The Friends of Justice now realize that freeing the victims of the Tulia 
sting will not be enough. America has moved from the War on Poverty to a 
War on the Poor (especially poor people of color)," Bean wrote in a recent 

That's quite a mountain.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart