Tuesday, February 10 at 10 p.m. – Independent Lens: Tulia, Texas
(Rochester, NY)– A product of the nation’s “war on drugs,” narcotics agent Tom Coleman was hired to
work undercover in a now-infamous drug sting operation in Tulia, Texas. On July 23, 1999, Coleman executed
one of the biggest drug busts in Texas history; by the end of that blazing summer day, dozens of residents of the
small farming town of Tulia had been rounded up and thrown behind bars. Thirty-nine of the 46 people accused
of selling drugs to Coleman were African American. Independent Lens: Tulia, Texas airs Tuesday, February 10 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).
Named “Texas Lawman of the Year” for his investigation,
Coleman’s arrests led to quick trials and severe sentences. But it soon became clear that there was more to Coleman than met the eye, and revelations came forward calling into question many of the arrests. Later, as lawyers
fought to clear the names of the victims and residents of Tulia joined forces to tackle prejudice within their
community, another story emerged.
Coleman, the son of a legendary Texas Ranger, worked the Tulia operation alone and never used surveillance
equipment. The Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force and Swisher County sheriff Larry Stewart together hired and supervised Coleman; the funding came from a federal grant program conceived at the height of the
drug wars in the late 1980s that empowered communities across the country to hire freelance agents like Coleman. Although the arrests in Tulia devastated much of the black community, many in the white community
applauded Coleman for “cleaning up the town.” When his supervisors learned that Coleman himself was wanted
by the police, they kept the information quiet.
With its gripping story told through interviews with the accused, Coleman, and the police officers, jurors,
lawyers, families, and activists involved, Tulia, Texas takes you from the personal to the political and back
again. The film explores how one part of the community consented to systematic prejudice while another was
unwilling to sit back quietly as their neighbors were victimized by one overzealous rogue drug agent and the
culture that celebrated him. Tulia, Texas tells the story of a small town’s search for justice and explores
how the war on drugs actually plays out in communities across the country.
For more information, visit http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/tuliatexas and http://wxxi.org/bh for more Black History Month programming from WXXI.
Pictured: The Tulia defendants arrive for the evidentiary hearing.
Photo Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein/ITVS
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