Synopses & Reviews
In the summer of 1999, in the tiny west Texas town of Tulia, thirty-nine people, almost all of them black, were arrested and charged with dealing powdered cocaine. The operation, a federally-funded investigation performed in cooperation with the local authorities, was based on the work of one notoriously unreliable undercover officer. At trial, the prosecution relied almost solely on the uncorroborated, and contradictory, testimony of that officer, Tom Coleman. Despite the flimsiness of the evidence against them, virtually all of the defendants were convicted and given sentences as high as ninety-nine years. Tom Coleman was named a Texas Lawman of the Year for his work.
Tulia is the story of this town, the bust, the trials, and the heroic legal battle that ultimately led to the reversal of the convictions in the summer of 2003. Laws have been changed in Texas as a result of the scandal, and the defendants have earned a measure of bittersweet redemption. But the story is much bigger than the tale of just one bust. As Tulia makes clear, these events are the latest chapter in a story with themes as old as the country itself. It is a gripping, marvelously well-told tale about injustice, race, poverty, hysteria, and desperation in rural America.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A first-rate piece of 'injustice' journalism, the kind of book that outrages while it fascinates." Dallas Morning News
"If you read just one book to understand what has gone wrong with narcotics enforcement in this country, read Tulia." Ann Richards, former governor of Texas
"This is reporting at its bestetailed, in context and beautifully written." Molly Ivins
In 1999, in the tiny Texas town of Tulia, 39 people were charged with dealing cocaine. All were convicted and given sentences as high as 99 years. This is the story of the heroic legal battle that ultimately led to the reversal of the convictions in 2003.
Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
About the Author
Nate Blakeslee, a former editor of the Texas Observer, broke the Tulia story for the Observer in 2000. It was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. In 2004, he won the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for his drug war reporting. Blakeslee's work has also appeared in Texas Monthly and The Nation. He is a Soros Justice Media Fellow. Born and raised in Texas, he lives in Austin.