Pubdate: Fri, 02 May 2003 Source: Shorthorn, The (TX Edu Arlington) Contact http://www.theshorthorn.com/ Feedback: http://www.theshorthorn.com/contactus.html Address: UTA Student Publications, Box 19038, Arlington, TX 76019 Fax: (817)272-5009 Copyright: 2003 The Shorthorn. Author: Andy McMillen DRUG DISPARITY Innocent people serve more time than the guilty who frame them You're deciding whether to vacation in California this summer or work to save money for the fall semester. Or, if you are graduating, you're preparing to start your career or frantically looking for a job. Even if things are a little tough, consider yourself lucky. Fifteen-year-old Angel Daniel Villagrana, a freshman at Nogales High School in Arizona, may be trying to decide if he will fight off his cellmate's unwanted sexual advances with a crude "knife" and possibly die or kill, or if he will just give in and live. Angel faces 30 years in prison. He was accused April 17 of taking part in the sale of one gram of cocaine to an undercover officer and was charged as an adult. One gram. Thirty years. Since the man in the White House refuses to say whether he ever used the white powder, it's logical to assume that he probably did. Yet he got elected president of the United States. Is there a disparity here? Arizona may seem far away, but drug law injustice is nationwide. Texas is no exception. In the Panhandle town of Tulia, more than three dozen citizens -- all but three of whom are black -- were falsely accused of drug possession by one police officer, Tom Coleman. When they were arrested July 23, 1999, no drugs or guns were found. No corroborating evidence was produced in any of the cases, yet sentences of up to 90 years were handed down. Ninety years. Take a few minutes to imagine 90 years in a Texas prison. Close your eyes and picture a man riding a horse with a shotgun and a rifle pointed at you while you pick cotton. You need permission to use the bathroom or to wipe the blood off your hands -- blood caused by the blisters from the cotton plants. When you return to your bunk or cell after eight hours or so in the South Texas sun, you get to listen to sex and gang talk until you fall asleep. And don't sleep too soundly, or you might wake up with a new "friend." And remember, you're innocent. Thirteen of Coleman's victims are still behind bars, even though the local prosecutor has recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the cases be overturned. Meanwhile, what about the guy who put them there? The police officer who invented the whole sordid scam, set them up and lied against them in court under oath? After destroying a few dozen lives in Tulia, Coleman was "serving" as a law enforcement officer in another Texas jurisdiction (isn't this a wonderful system?) until recently indicted for perjury. If you think this means justice is being done, think again. Aggravated perjury carries a maximum 10-year penalty in Texas. The people he set up got 90. Coleman will serve 10 years. Maybe. This is backward. Coleman should be in jail, and his victims should be released, apologized to and compensated. The real tragedy, however, may be the apathy. That's Texas story No. 1. Here's another, right in the neighborhood: More than 15 months after filing 80 drug cases using billiard chalk and Sheetrock as evidence (in lieu of any real illegal substances), former Dallas police Senior Cpl. Mark Delapaz was charged this week with six federal offenses of submitting false reports. Delapaz faces 10 years in prison if convicted. And those years would be in federal prison, considerably more comfortable than the inferno of Texas Department of Corrections hellholes. Since January 2002, Delapaz has been on paid administrative leave while many of those he falsely charged rotted in jails and prisons. This is fair? Delapaz maintains his innocence, as did those he arrested. Jaime Siguenza, one of four people whose rights were violated in the cases invented by Delapaz, "expressed a mixture of dismay and relief when he heard of the former officer's indictment," according to The Dallas Morning News. "He compared Cpl. Delapaz's 10-year possible sentence to the 50 years he (Siguenza) faced in prison before the false drug evidence became known," the Morning News reported April 25. But the greater issue to consider is this: Why do we condemn private citizens to gulag-like prisons for possession of illegal substances (while alcohol, just as deadly, is available at will) yet allow those who abuse their public trust to face laughably lenient punishments? Maybe it's time to toss out our drug laws. These laws are the cause of the horrors suffered by the victims of Coleman, Delapaz and others. They will continue while the brainwashing continues and the unworkable laws remain on the books. We study history in college, so why not apply the lesson of history? The United States tried prohibition -- all alcohol was outlawed -- and succeeded in creating Al Capone and assuring the success of organized crime. Today's prohibition is creating equally tragic results. It's time to repeal prohibition again. -- Andy McMillen is a Spanish graduate student and a regular columnist for The Shorthorn.