Pubdate: Mon, 10 Nov 2003
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2003 Independent Media Institute
Author: Margaret Kimberly, The Black Commentator
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


Tonya White is a very lucky woman. Ms. White lives in Tulia, Texas but
she was in a bank in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at the same time she was
accused of dealing drugs in Tulia.

The terrible injustice perpetrated on residents of Tulia, Texas is not
a new story. Forty-six innocent individuals, 39 of them black, were
arrested, tried and convicted for drug dealing, solely on the word of
former police officer Tom Coleman. Coleman is now under indictment for

Here in New York City crooked cops find it necessary to plant evidence
in order to win convictions, but not so in the Texas panhandle.
Coleman had no evidence, not wire taps, videotapes or even the drugs
that had allegedly been sold. Yet he succeeded in getting sentences of
up to 99 years in these cases.

I first read about the Tulia case in Bob Herbert's New York Times
column. Attorneys in Texas, New York, and Washington, many of them
volunteers, were all part of the successful defense effort. The result
is that all of the defendants have been freed and 35 have been
pardoned by the governor of Texas.

I watched a story about Tulia on the September 28th season premier of
60 Minutes and it was truly painful to revisit. Some of the cases were
dismissed because the accused were able to prove they were at work or,
like Tonya White, not in Tulia during the alleged drug dealing. One
defendant, Joe Moore, is a pig farmer living in what I can only
describe as a shack. That alone should have been evidence that he
wasn't a drug dealer. I always thought that drug dealers plied their
trade to avoid living in shacks.

Correspondent Ed Bradley interviewed Coleman in an exchange that was
both frightening and comical. Coleman was defiant but kept addressing
Ed Bradley as "Sir." The former cop admitted using the word nigger
many times but when asked if he would address Bradley that way he
replied, "Oh, no sir, not you." He still maintains that the defendants
were drug dealers, even when presented with Tonya White's proof of
being in Oklahoma. The strangest question from Bradley was, "How has
this affected your life?" Tom Coleman is not yet behind bars. Because
of his actions 46 people were imprisoned unjustly and lost their
freedom for more than three years. I hope I was not the only viewer
who wasn't concerned about Coleman's life. But surprisingly, this
segment was not the most disturbing portion of the broadcast.

Bradley spoke with Elaine Jones of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, whose
attorneys played a key role in overturning the convictions. Ed Bradley
asked a very predictable question, "How did this happen?" Ms. Jones
stated the obvious when she said, "The defendants in Tulia are guilty
of being Black and living in Tulia." She went on to say that the town
was too small to have a market for drug dealing on such a scale, and
also blamed the excesses created by the war on drugs.

My initial reaction to Ms. Jones' statement was that such a heinous
injustice required more than a matter of fact explanation about
population size and overzealous bureaucracy. But in fairness to
Bradley and Jones, I am sure that their conversation was much longer
than the snippets shown to viewers. They may have discussed the nature
of racism, the farce that is the war on drugs, and how that led to
Tulia and other cases of police and judicial misconduct. Elaine Jones
and her colleagues who worked on this case could tell us all a lot
more if they were not constrained by the need to allow time for real
news, advertisements, and the genius of Andy Rooney.

However, the rest of us are under no such restrictions and should use
these much needed if incomplete news reports as an opportunity to
speak honestly about Tulia and other injustices. The sad truth is,
these convictions occurred because of white supremacy. Tom Coleman had
credibility with jurors because he has white skin. He didn't need
wiretaps or fingerprints. A white face declaring black guilt was
sufficient evidence to get prison sentences for non-existent crimes.

Talking about white supremacy takes a lot longer than sixty minutes
and is difficult for people of every race to acknowledge. It is easy
to call a member of the Aryan Nation or KKK a white supremacist. They
give us an out by publicly embracing their beliefs. But what do we say
about physicians who treat white and black patients differently, or
the loan officers who refuse mortgages to blacks and Hispanics who
have the same income as whites?

The words white supremacy are so loaded, and conjure up such horrible
images that it is no surprise most people aren't willing to own them,
even as they reject the more qualified job applicant or hire him but
pay less than he deserves. The pain it causes is so terrible that even
victims are in denial. As Tulia defendant Freddie Brookins Jr., said,
"I can't just dwell on being angry. If I stay upset about it, I can't
go on with my life." Most of us have not had his experience, and yet
his words are familiar. We acknowledge racism but don't dwell on it
too much because we want to live our lives without anger and bitterness.

But we are still angry and bitter. We waste time asking questions that more
often than not have an obvious and simple answer. "Why am I followed around
in the store?" Answer: white supremacy. "Why does the world stop brutality
in Bosnia but not in the Congo or Liberia?" Answer: white supremacy. "Why
doesn't Angela Bassett get more and better roles?" Answer: white supremacy.
I could go on with important and unimportant issues alike but you get the
idea. When these questions arise we should take a deep breath, count to ten
and then say, "White supremacy." The initial discomfort will be overcome by
a feeling of freedom. Our circumstances may not be any different, but the
willingness to tell the truth will be liberating.

People of color are imprisoned unjustly, victimized by police
brutality, die earlier than they should and are excluded from the
opportunities this country has to offer, all because of a belief that
white people are superior and more deserving than non-whites. It seems
that this belief also causes otherwise worthy sources of information
to address even the most egregious examples of racism in a superficial
manner. I don't expect anyone at CBS to have a serious discussion
about white supremacy, but I would have thought that a more in-depth
analysis would take place in telling the story of Tulia. It didn't
happen. The reasons are obvious.
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