Ron's Reviews > Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town

Tulia by Nate Blakeslee
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Apr 23, 12

bookshelves: nonfiction

It's sometimes hard to think of books that look kindly on West Texas, from Dorothy Scarborough's "The Wind" to H. G. Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights." Add "Tulia" to the list. Its story of overzealous, small-town justice casts a harsh light of judgment on a system that used a questionable drug enforcement program to railroad citizens, most of them black, into prison. Blakeslee's 400+ pages of investigative reporting tell a compelling story of a perfect storm involving a sheriff, prosecuting attorney, and judge whose lack of due diligence and apparent racial bias get them into deep trouble with a totally unethical undercover agent. It's also a story of a handful of lawyers and concerned citizens who over a period of several years manage to enlist the support of civil libertarians and the media to expose the injustice and exonerate the defendants who had been unjustly convicted.

In the book, there is a huge cast of characters, and without the help of its index, it's sometimes hard to keep track of them all. But Blakeslee brings them all to life, and with the gifts of a good novelist, manages to maintain the threads of many different story-lines as they interweave and eventually converge on the habeas hearing that reveals the actual nature of events leading to the false arrests. Finally, the book reveals to a degree some of the circumstances contributing to the large population of ethnic minorities in the nation's prisons, and it provides evidence to support arguments that the proper focus of civil rights legislation today is the judicial system itself.
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