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Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town Paperback – September 30, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Winner of the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for excellence in nonfiction and a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, this 2007 audiobook recounts a racially charged undercover narcotics investigation in the small Texas panhandle town of Tulia. The fallout holds far-reaching implications for strategy and tactics in America's war against illegal drugs. Boles gives the proceedings a down-home flavor in his vocal renderings of Tulia locals without descending into a mocking or patronizing caricature of rural life. Boles's unflinching performance of the trial deliberations—especially the heated exchanges between the defense lawyers and rogue police officer Tom Coleman—creates a palpable air of courtroom drama. The sheer magnitude of the characters—including the three dozen defendants, scores of attorneys, law enforcement officials and community leaders—may at times leave listeners somewhat confounded. Yet the essential threads of the narrative weave a compelling account of the epic struggle for justice and fairness in the day-to-day trenches of an imperfect judicial system. Now a Public Affairs paperback (Reviews, Aug. 8, 2005). (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 fathers reputation as a respected Texas Ranger. Though depressing, Tulia is ultimately a story of triumph. Read the bookor wait for the film.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It is also one of the most engaging books I have ever opened.
My sole complaint is that the author ignores Associated Press style where, in my mind, he shouldn't (as a copy editor, I cringed every time "over" appeared in place of "more than" - often multiple times per page). But of all I've ever read more rigorous in grammatical style, I can think of precious little to compete with this volume for deep reporting or genuine importance. Or, for that matter, for the ability to make me laugh out loud even in the face of systematic debasement.
I recommend this book unequivocally. Everyone should read it.
***WARNING!!! SPOILERS BELOW!!! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK***
The truth is, it's unusual as a true story only for the in-depth coverage it has received (particularly in this book, a stellar piece of reporting) and the fact that it has a happier ending than most.
It's the story of a cop who lied to make a name for himself. Of a church-leader-cum-sheriff who covered up for him. Of a drunk-driving DA who made his career prosecuting DWIs, who withheld critical evidence from the defense and then lied about it in open court. Of a judge, once an idealistic defense attorney, who stacked the deck against a fair trial. Of great men like Paul Holloway, a court-appointed defender with enough faith in the system to do his job on a level usually reserved for television attorneys - enough faith, that is, to be broken when the system proved too corrupt to care. Of Freddie Brookins Sr., who told his son it was wrong to lie: If he was innocent, he shouldn't take a deal. (Consequently, Freddie Jr. was sentenced to 20 in years prison.) Of Gary Gardner, a diabetic farmer self-taught in the law, an old-timer who considered the n-word normal parlance but who spent thousands of dollars and countless hours fighting for the rights of wrongly convicted African-Americans.
It is the story, ultimately, of dozens of men and women convicted based on demonstrable lies. Of human beings sent to prison with sentences that ranged to 361 years. Of two defendants who remained in prison until 2011, despite the fact that the case against them was proven, in court, to be nonsense in 2003.
What little evidence the arresting officer did have was suspicious and didn't match the criminal histories of the accused; for instance, most of the defendants were arrested for selling powdered cocaine, when those that were drug users did crack.
In addition to all of the above, the arresting officer was arrested himself--for theft--right in the middle of his "deep cover" investigation. It later turned out that he had also been a card-carrying member of the KKK, had been chastised by his department for frequently using racial slurs, had kidnapped his child, run out on large debts, stolen gas, and much more.
Over time, it became apparent that he had taken the money given to him to buy drugs as an undercover agent, used the money to pay off his outstanding debts, cut some cocaine with baking soda, and claimed that he got the cocaine from over forty different dealers in the same little town.
Many of the people he accused received life sentences in court hearings that seemed as ethically questionable as the officer's personal methods, and it wasn't until a few concerned locals, some good reporters, and some saintly pro bono lawyers got involved, that the defendants finally got a truly just chance to redeem themselves--and to put their accuser and his crowd on trial themselves.
The story of "Tulia" is an amazing one. It reads like pulp fiction, although its heroes and villains are never as black and white. For instance, the victims in the story are, in many cases, drug users, and in some cases ended up back in prison soon after, for similar charges.
The whole story asks valid questions of the War on Drugs, but--aside from suggesting fairness and honesty--doesn't offer much in the way of valid solutions. Should drugs just be legal? Is that really a better way to live life? Will that make for a better society?
I'd have to answer "No" to that one, but I would say that removing officers like the one in this book would be a good start in the right direction.
This book itself, and the attention it gives the issue, is a good start of its own.
Having lived in Tulia at one time, I could picture the places in my mind. I was horrified that there could be such a miscarriage of justice in a town that I thought was a very fine place. It lets us look at the power of people: those who misuse systems and those who try to make the systems work. Thank goodness for journalists and lawyers who will not sit idly by and let people's lives be unjustly distroyed.