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Texas Observer VOLUME 93, NO. 7 A Journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Editors: Nate Blakeslee, Karen Olsson Managing Editor: Barbara Belejack Managing Publisher: Charlotte McCann Circulation Manager: Candace Carpenter Graphic Designer: Julia Austin Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editor: Roxanne Bogucka Development Director: Susan Morris Interns: Jamie Kopf, Chris Womack Advertising Representative: Gene Akins 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, ohn Ross. Staff Photographer: Alan Pogue Contributing Photographers: Jana Birchum,Vic Hinterlang, Patricia Moore, ack 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 Farentholdjohn Kenneth Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr., Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Bernard Rapoport. Geoffrey Rips, Gilberto Ocanas. The Texas Observer entire contents copyrighted 2001, is published biweekly except every three weeks during January and August \(24 issues profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin,Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page: . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years 559, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add 513/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 7exas 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 grattqfrom the City ofAustin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission and the Writer’s League of ‘Texas, both in cooperation miff the Texas Commission on the Arts. EDITORIAL overnor Perry got off to a Ggood start when he declared access to post-conviction DNA testing his first piece of “emergency legislation” as Governor. That much-needed bill is well on its way to Perry’s desk. Close behind it ought to be a package of criminal justice reform bills, sponsored and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte \(D-San Tulia bills. The three bills were conceived in the aftermath of a controversial drug sting in the Panhandle town of Tulia, which put over 10 percent of the town’s black population behind bars on the uncorroborated testimony of a single undercover agent, whose own credibility has been seriously questioned \(see “Color of Justice,” June 23, 2000 by Nate how exceptionally corrupt law enforcement in Swisher County is, but how common the story is in many respects. In fact, in the short time since it helped craft these bills, the ACLU has identified six more “Tulia’s” across the state. One is the Central Texas town of Hearne. Last year, cases there were made not by an undercover officer, but by an ex-convict who was offered a chance to snitch in exchange for leniency in a pending burglary case. As in Tulia, none of the dozens of buys he allegedly made were corroborated by a second officer, or by audio or video surveillance. And once again, virtually every defendant targeted was African American. In late March, the ACLU lodged an official complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and sought to add the Hearne case to its ongoing civil suit in Tulia, where an FBI investigation is also underway. Like the Tulia sting, the Hearne bust does not bear up under scrutiny: As we went to press, the district attorney announced he was dismissing 17 of the cases, citing a lack of confidence in his informant. This has become the model of the 8’3810110 iii modern drug war: Targeting so-called “street level dealers”, often just addicts themselves, with small buys just big enough to qualify for lengthy prison sentences. The emphasis is on making as many cases as possible, regardless of the size.Virtually no drugs are taken off the streets, and higher level dealers are not targeted at all. The standard of evidence required, and the level of professionalism in these operations, have become alarmingly low. The Tulia bills attack the potential for abuse in this model of law enforcement. House Bill 2350 makes an officer’s state licensure file more accessible to the public.\( After. considerable wrangling, defense lawyers in Tulia discovered damning evidence of previous misconduct in Agent Tom Coleman’s 2352, which limits a judge’s discretion to exclude evidence that might exonerate defendants. Damning information about Coleman’s past was not allowed into evidence in the majority of the Tulia trials, despite the fact that he was the sole witness for the prosecution in most of the cases. The most far-reaching and controversial measure is H.B. 2351, which would prevent cases from being made on the uncorroborated testimony of one officer. Prosecutors and law enforcement lobbyists vehemently attacked this measure in a tense March 26 hearing, which was attended by family members and supporters of the Tulia defendants.The bill is set to be taken up again the second week in April. ACLU board member Kathy Mitchell is cautiously optimistic. “Even the most conservative members are looking at the Tulia video [from ABC’s 20/20] and these terrible cases and wondering if something has gone wrong,” she said. Governor Perry \(and House Speaker Pete Laney, whose district includes throwing some weight behind these bills. The people of Texas need emergency relief from the drug war. N.B. Pass the Ida Billsitno 4/13/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3