Friday, April 10, 2009

A Must-Read Book: "Tulia"

One of the most-satisfying things about writing a book is that you have to read a lot of books, and think about them, along the way. I'm just now finishing the best book I've read in a long time: "Tulia: Race, Cocaine and Corruption in a Small Texas Town."
No doubt the better-read followers of this blog already have worked their way through this masterpiece, which was both a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and winner of the J. Anthony Lucas Book Prize. But I was overseas when it first came out in 2005 and had missed it. I can only say, "Wow!"
A book editor friend of mine recommended this, even though it has nothing to do with my normal preoccupations with AIDS or Africa. But it dives right to the heart of America's terrible racial history and its punishing present-day legacy in so much of the United States.
Author Nate Blakeslee chronicles the arrests of more than 40 supposed drug dealers, which amounted to a massive swath of the marginalized black community of a town of just 5,000 people. The evidence from an undercover narcotics officer was unusually thin and uncorroborated, but that didn't keep West Texas juries from doling out dozens--in one case, hundreds!--of years to these defendants.
Of course it all falls apart as the undercover cop turns out to be shady himself, and apparently a habitual liar. The most chilling part of the book, of course, is that most cases in our so-called drug war don't get anywhere near this much publicity, or scrutiny. It took a high-powered team of attorneys, and the pardon of an embarrassed governor, to eventually undo these blatant injustices. But how many injustices pass without notice beyond the routine reach of public scrutiny and good defense attorneys?

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