VOLUME 92, NO. 20 A JOURNAL OF FREE VOICES SINCE 1954 EDITORIAL Tulia Breaks! The story we broke in our June 23 issue about a racially tainted drug sting in a small Panhandle town, and the highly suspect undercover agent who ran it, has officially entered the media food chain. It has now been digested by so many news outlets beginning with Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now and ending with a front page story in The New York Times and a feature segment on CNN that the carnivores at the top of the chain are now referring to the story in shorthand. The racially divided town, the questionable police work, the incredibly long prison sentences it’s all just “Tulia” now. As in: “Tulia is as much a story about race as how the drug war has gone crazy.” That’s from Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith, quoted in Arianna Huffington’s syndicated column on October 9. From the Observer to the Times to the Texas Monthly, and in only four short months. The big bust in Tulia, population 5,000, created a ripple through the state’s daily papers back in the summer of 1999, when the arrests occurred and the racial targeting of the sting \(roughly ten percent of the town’s ily apparent. But the stories barely scratched the surface, and nobody seemed to be asking the biggest question of all: could there really be 43 cocaine dealers in a town the size of Tulia? By the time I drove to Tulia a year later, the story was completely moribund, deader than the news room at the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. My contact in Tulia told me she had tried in vain for months as one defendant after another received staggering sentences for delivering tiny amounts of cocaine, in cases built on the scantest of evidence -to get just one major daily to come out and take a closer look at the story. Nobody would bite. And what a story it was. Defense attorneys had put together a damning file on the undercover agent, enough to cook his goose in any fair court of law. But the Swisher County judges wouldn’t allow the evidence to be heard. So the first airing of the laundry, and the first critical look at the drug war in Tulia, was in the pages of The Texas Observer. But not the last. A reader in Tulia noticed a pattern in the subsequent coverage, none of which, when it finally came, gave attribution to the Observer. “We were chatting Sunday evening at our meeting and I pointed out that all of these stories \(including the New York and L.A. Times little more than variations on a theme,” he wrote me. “You set the pattern with your story and everybody largely rehashes what you laid out only with less depth and attention to detail.” We could not have said it better ourselves. Time magazine called the office just before we went to press to ask for permission to use a photo I shot for the Tulia story. “We’ll of course credit you . for the photo,” the editor assured me. And that’s the only place The Texas Observer will appear in your story, I thought. Gobbled again. But this is why we do what we do in the alternative press, and moments like this are what makes it all worth it. Things happen when stories make it to the top of the food chain. Corrupt politicians get dethroned. People get out of jail. Justice prevails. Sometimes. This time, though, it feels like something is happening, that opposition to the drug war may be approaching a critical mass in this country. Californians will vote on a decriminalization initiative this November, and medical marijuana ordinances are slowly making legalization a reality for many cities. A recent rally at the state capitol, attended by a large delegation from that a wide range of people are reaching similar conclusions about the drug war. N.B. Editor: Nate Blakeslee Managing Publisher: Charlotte McCann Office Manager: Candace Carpenter Graphic Designer: Julia Austin Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Development Director: Susan Morris Interns: Karem Said, Chris Womack Special Projects: Jere Locke, Nancy Williams Contributing Writers: Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Louis Dubose, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Paul Jennings, Steven G. Kellman, Lucius Lomax, Jeff Mandell, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, John Ross. Staff Photographer: Alan Pogue Contributing Photographers: Jana Birchum, Vic Hinterlang, Patricia Moore, Jack Rehm. Contributing Artists: Jeff Danziger, Beth Epstein, Valerie Fowler, Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Ben Sargent, Gail Woods. Editorial Advisory Board: David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Bob Eckhardt, Sissy Farenthoid, John K. Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr., Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: Molly Ivins, D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips, Gilberto Ocatias. The Texas Observer \(ISSN 0040-4519/ 2000, is published biweekly except every three weeks during January and profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: observe[email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page: www.texasobserver.org . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes: The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. The Books & the Culture section is partially funded through grants from the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission, and the Austin Writers’ League, both in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. OCTOBER 20, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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