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Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town Hardcover – September 26, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Those familiar with the travesty of justice that led to multiple bogus drug arrests in the small Texas town of Tulia only from newspaper accounts will be outraged anew at this eye-opening narrative that bears comparison to such courtroom and litigation classics as A Civil Action. This devastating indictment of the toll taken by the war on drugs, viewed through the prism of one small community, is a masterpiece of true crime writing. Award-winning reporter Blakeslee broke the story for the Texas Observer in 2000 and has produced a definitive account, deftly weaving the history of the growth and decline of Tulia with the stories of those caught up in the racist frame by narcotics officer Tom Coleman. The defendants, their families and their attorneys come across as three-dimensional individuals, consistently engaging the reader despite the wealth of details and the intricacies of the appellate process. Vanita Gupta, the young defense lawyer fresh from law school who made the NAACP Legal Defense Fund take notice with her dedication, is especially memorable. As with Errol Morris's film exposing corrupt Texas law-enforcement, The Thin Blue Line, this haunting work will leave many wondering how many other Tulias there are out there. (Oct. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

"No novelist could have made up such an account and been deemed credible," writes the San Francisco Chronicle. Yet every detail in Tulia is true. Expertly researched and written, Tulia offers a shocking portrait of racial profiling and bigotry in rural America. In writing this tale, Blakeslee never fails to put the defendants’ stories in the context of black-white race relations, drug-enforcement task forces, and corrupt police forces. Nor (to the chagrin of a few critics, who found the characters hard to follow) does he omit a single defendant or lawyer involved in the case. Coleman in particular comes off as an incompetent, despicable man unable to live up to his father’s reputation as a respected Texas Ranger. Though depressing, Tulia is ultimately a story of triumph. Read the book—or wait for the film.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (September 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648219X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482190
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a superlative expose of what happened in Tulia, a small, dusty town in the Texas Panhandle. Beautifully written, it tells a compelling story of justice denied, thanks to a corrupt group of law enforcement officials and a rogue, undercover narcotics cop.

As a career prosecutor for over twenty years, I was appalled at the events that unfolded within the pages of this absorbing book. It is the role of a prosecutor to seek justice. It is not the role of a prosecutor to behave in the reprehensible and despicable fashion that Terry McEachern, the prosecutor in Tulia did. I only hope that he will eventually be disbarred, if he has not already been disbarred for his complicity in the travesty of justice that occurred in Tulia.

In 1999, about twenty percent of the adult Black population of Tulia found itself arrested. Pulled out of their homes in the wee hours of the morning in all stages of dishabille, all found themselves accused of selling cocaine to Tom Coleman, an undercover cop who would prove to be something other than what he seemed. His true colors, however, would not come to light publicly until after he was named Officer of the Year.

It would turn out that Coleman's only claim to fame was the fact that his father had been a member of that hardy breed of lauded officers known as the Texas Rangers. He was, evidently, nothing like his father, who was by all accounts a well-respected lawman. The only saving grace for his father is that he mercifully died before his son's infamy came to light. Of course, it should be noted that Tom Coleman was able to operate as he did, thanks to the Sheriff of Tulia, Larry Stewart, who supported Coleman until the bitter end. Sheriff Stewart was not worthy of the shield that he wore.
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Format: Hardcover
One morning in 1999, in the little cow town of Tulia in the Texas panhandle, before the sun came up, a force of state and local police burst into homes, arresting 47 men and women who had no way of anticipating what had hit them. News cameras were there to show the half-dressed suspects being led from their homes. A neighbor exclaimed, "They're arresting all the black folks!" and it must have seemed that way. Those arrested were mostly black, and they were twenty percent of the little town's black adult population. The _Tulia Sentinel_'s headline proclaimed, "Tulia's Streets Cleared of Garbage." The big sting was for drug dealing, leaving some to wonder if there were all those drug dealers, how many drug users were left as their market in such a little place. It wasn't the first tinge of doubt about the arrests, and four years later after a bitter struggle, those found guilty were sprung from prison and the charges were annulled and restitution made. It's a sordid, fascinating study of justice misguided and justice eventually triumphant that casts light on race relations and the national war on drugs, and it is told excitingly in _Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town_ (PublicAffairs) by Nate Blakeslee. It is smoothly written and even though we know the outcome beforehand since it is not a novel, it has a great deal of suspense and plenty of memorable characters.

There are a surfeit of bad guys here, but they all depended on the fraudulent handiwork of Tom Coleman, a scruffy character ("a bad cop from central casting") whose strongest merit was that his father had been a superb Texas Ranger. Coleman's evidence always consisted of his word against that of the suspects; he never had another cop witness his buys and he never had audio or video of them.
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Format: Hardcover
I first read about the travesty of justice in Tulia, Texas in columnist Bob Herbert's column in The New York Times that I get online. I immediately felt an outrage at this situation, so I was eager to read this book that details the whole thing. It is a fascinating look at what seemingly passes for justice, but is really a gross racial slam to about 40 people in this small town. I especially liked the last 2/3 of the book when the "good guys" got their day in court and exposed the only witness to this travesty as a lying, bigoted criminal. It was court room drama at its best. I recommend this book as a great piece of nonfiction.
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Format: Hardcover
I find myself with so many conflicting thoughts about this book that I hardly know where to start, so with no particular order in mind:

The Drug War: We've fought this battle for a lot of years now. We've assisted in the shooting down and killing of American missionaries in South America. We've put an enormous number of people in prison. And as this book shows, some of them were clearly convicted with false evidence. Do we see any reduction in the amount of drugs being used? Hey guys, the drug war isn't working. Try something different.

Police Power: This book shows what corrupt law enforcement can do. Tell me again why we should give these people more power through the Patriot's Act.

Capital Punishment: If this kind of false testimony can get people prison sentences of up to 361 years, can you really say that this couldn't happen in a capital crime. And after you kill them, how do you go back to free them and provide restitution?


1. You don't want to live in Texas. Then again our little town has a similar scandal 25 or so years ago of a police force out of control.

2. The case was really broken open by an NAACP lawyer. Where would we turn if we needed such help.

3. This is the story of one town, one situation. How many others exist that we don't know about?
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