Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town.

A true story told by a native journalist, Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town

It tells the story of thirty-seven Black men and women who were arrested during a police operation in 1999 and wrongfully convicted before being pardoned by the town mayor. The book focuses on Tulia’s difficulties with corruption, drug misuse, and racial discrimination. This is a story that caught attention in the whole of the US and led to major changes in the laws of Tulia to eliminate racial prejudice.

A Description of Tulia:

Tulia is a small town that is found in West Texas in Swisher County. The town is located in the semi-arid part of Texas and has a total size of 3.5 square miles. The town was established in the 1980s because of the oil boom and busts. By the year 2010, its population stood at around 5000 thousand people where the Blacks are the minority. Back in the year 1999, the minority African Americans were around 350.

The Story

The events and occurrences of this book are a true story that gives an account of what happened in Tulia in the years between 1999 and 2003. The Author was a journalist who wrote the story to uncover the injustices in the criminal justice system in Tulia. Notably, he is a native Texan (Hazel, 2).

On July 13, 1999

Forty-six people were arrested in Tulia, Texas for selling powered cocaine to Tom Coleman, an undercover officer in Texas. Thirty-seven of the persons arrested were African Americans. These people were arrested during a police raid and were dragged from their houses in a state of shame since they were half-naked with unkempt hair. Subsequently, all the people who were arrested were convicted except for four for whom there was no basis on which they could be convicted. They were sentenced to very long terms despite the fact that many of them were first offenders.

There were several witnesses to this case

But the main witness was Tom Cole. Based on Coleman’s testimony in court, the thirty-six were convicted and they were sentenced to serve different terms in prison although there was no evidence to back up his testimony in court. Later, four people filed a petition to seek new trials arguing that the prosecution withheld what it knew regarding the untruthfulness of the main witness. This petition was based on a United States Supreme Court case, Brady v.Maryland, 373 U.S.83(1963) (Hazel, 2).

The hearings of the petition take place on 20 March, 2003

In Swisher County in Texas where the courtroom is filled to capacity. Here, the petitioners seek legal relief against their sentences. Tom Coleman is cross-examined by Mitch Zamoff. Surprisingly, the book does not finish the cross-examination. Regardless of this fact, the case is closed when all the defendants are ultimately pardoned by the Mayor, Rick Perry.

Further, the story describes the attitudes of the white people concerning the Blacks.

In Tulia, the Blacks are the minority. Despite this fact, the law is discriminatory against them and most of them suffer unfair incarceration with insensibly long jail terms.


The first characters of the story are Joe Moore, Freddie Bookings Jr., Chris Jackson, and Jason Williams who are the petitioners in court seeking legal relief. They are serving jail terms of ninety, twenty, forty-five, and forty-five years respectively in prison after being convicted for selling cocaine. The case is presided over by a retired judge from Texas, Judge Ron Chapman. Vanitta Grupta, a young woman from Washington DC who has just concluded her studies in law school is the lawyer representing the petitioners. She is an Indian lawyer from the NAACP law group. Additionally, Jeff Blackburn, the only local attorney within a very large area, is the lawyer representing the other defendants. Also, Mitch Zamoff, a volunteer from Washington is an attorney for the petitioners and is the lawyer who cross-examines the main witness. Other lawyers on the defense side are Mark Twain, Gary Gardner, and Paul Holloway. The whole defense team consisted of thirteen people.

The main witness in this case is Tom Coleman who is the eldest son of Joe Coleman, a former Texas Ranger who is well-respected in the area. Tom was named the Texas officer of the year and is the person who carried out the investigation that led to the conviction of the thirty-six people. He was the one who allegedly bought cocaine from the defendants. However, this witness was not a faithful one since he did not give a true account of what had happened when he appeared in court. The other witnesses in this case were the District Attorney of Swisher County, Terry McKeachern, and Sheriff Larry Stewart (Hazel, 2).

In the court, the jury is also present and other people who are interested in the proceedings of this case since the courtroom is filled to capacity. Rick Perry, who was the Mayor, is also mentioned in this book. He gave the defendants an ultimate pardon in the end.


The biggest theme in this story is racial prejudice (Hazel, 2). When the police go to arrest the suspects, they treat them in a shameful manner by taking them into custody while they are half-naked, both men and women. The White people in the town support the police operation. In their perspective, the Black minority had formed criminal rings to sell drugs in the neighborhoods, a perspective that is biased. On the same note, when Coleman is sent as an undercover officer, he targets the Blacks and fabricates evidence to prove his case. Arguably, the charges presented in court were insensible in a way since the people were convicted of selling large amounts of cocaine that they could not possibly afford to possess. The colored were poor involved in drug abuse as consumers and sellers. According to Blakeslee, the drugs were sold to them by rich white peddlers. On the other hand, the book also focuses on the fight against racial discrimination. The lawyers come out to defend the convicts who are victims of racial prejudice.

In addition, Blakeslee covers the problem of corruption in Tulia. First, when the police force decides to carry out an operation, the candidate picked to undercover is a person of questionable morals. Tom Coleman had divorce cases filed against him, minor theft charges, and also accumulated date. He was given the task because of the fact that his father was a respected man in society. Secondly, during the court proceedings, the testimony of Coleman was considered despite the fact that it was inconsistent and did not have any evidence to substantiate it. The prosecution zealously pursued this case despite the fact that they were aware of Coleman’s prior problems with the law. On top of this, the sentences handed to the convicts were unfair. Irrespective of the fact that some of the suspects were first-time offenders, they were sentenced to very long periods in jail.

Further, the story focuses on the problem of drugs which is a national catastrophe. In an effort to fight drug abuse in rural and suburban areas, the federal government gave funding and worked in collaboration with the local authorities in Tulia to carry out the operation that Tom Coleman was involved in. The book clearly explains that Tulia had drug peddlers selling cocaine to the poor drug addicts who are Blacks.

The Relevance of the Title

The writer chose a title that gives a precise summary of the major issues he wanted to bring to light. All the major problems - racial prejudice, corruption, and drugs - that Tulia experienced during his time are well captured in the book’s title (Hazel, 2). This gives the reader a clear picture of the story covered in the book.


In summary, the book gives a clear picture of what happens when there is a gap in the justice system of a country. Poor management of the law enforcement and in the prosecutor’s office results in corruption. As such, the poor who have no advocates to fight for them are the main victims who suffer injustices that corruption brings about.

Work cited

Hazel, J. Patrick, ”review of Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town by Nate Blakeslee” (2007).Great Plains Quarterly. Paper 1516.Retrieved from: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/great plains quarterly/1516.

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