TULIA, TEXAS - Today, the Friends of Justice - an organization in Tulia, Texas that offers support to local victims of the war on drugs - announced that the ACLU and the NAACP will be joining them in a Freedom Ride and Never Again Rally. The events are being held to mark the two-year anniversary of the drug raid that swept up half of the town's male African-American population. The July 23, 1999 raid has become a rallying point for civil rights leaders and drug policy reform activists, noted by some as the epicenter of the second wave of the civil rights movement.
The controversial drug raid, which occurred in the early morning hours, turned up no drugs, money, or weapons, and ended with arrests and convictions based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of one undercover agent. Despite the small amounts of drugs involved in the charges associated with the raid, some of the sentences for those convicted ranged from sixty to over four hundred years. In response to the convictions, local activists joined defendants and their families to form Friends of Justice, seeking to bring national attention to the injustice in Tulia.
Friends of Justice soon formed an alliance with the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, and the Texas ACLU and NAACP became aware of the case. Together, the ACLU and NAACP filed civil rights suits against county officials, which are still pending. Subsequently, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department launched an investigation. Since joining forces with the national groups, local organizers have discovered that Tulia is just one example of what is happening in communities around America.
"The Never Again Rally is our way of reminding the country that what happened here is happening across America with clockwork regularity," said Alan Bean of Friends of Justice. "Tulia can show America the painful effects of the war on drugs on its families and communities. The name of the rally speaks for itself: Never Again! Not in Tulia, not anywhere."
National civil rights and drug policy reform groups also see the events of Tulia as a microcosm of the larger war on drugs.
"Tulia highlights a national problem - racial unfairness in the enforcement of drug laws. Even though there are seven times as many white drug users as black, two-thirds of the people incarcerated for drug offenses are African-American," explained Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy.
The series of events to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Tulia raid will begin on Saturday, July 21st, at 11:00 p.m. in Austin, Texas. Two buses carrying civil rights leaders, drug policy reform activists, and local and national victims of the drug war will set out from Austin on a Freedom Ride to Tulia, sponsored by the Texas Network of Reform Groups.
The Never Again Rally will begin with a concert featuring children impacted by the drug sting on July 22, 2001 at 6:00 p.m. in Tulia's Conner Park, with speakers starting at 7:00 p.m. At 11:00 p.m., the group will march down Broadway to the Swisher County Courthouse and jail, where a candlelight vigil will be held into the early morning hours of July 23rd, the actual second anniversary of the raid.
Speakers will include:
- Will Harrell, Executive Director, Texas ACLU;
- Dorothy Gaines, a non-violent offender granted clemency by President Clinton in January;
- The Reverend Edwin Sanders, II, Founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church of Nashville, Tennessee;
- Kevin Zeese, President, Common Sense for Drug Policy;
- Randy Credico, Director of Operations, William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice;
- Mikki Norris, Author, Shattered Lives:: Victims of the War on Drugs
- Jerry Epstein, President, Drug Policy Forum of Texas
- Tracey Rochelle Hayes, Director, Texas Network of Reform Groups
- Sammie Barrow, Sr., a resident of Tulia whose brothers and nephews were arrested during the raid; and,
- National activists and Tulia residents affected by the 1999 raid.