"It seems to me our community has gotten a pretty bum rap," said the Rev. Charles Davenport, pastor of the First Baptist Church.
He's lived here 29 years and is trying to figure out how a town few outside of West Texas had heard of until the pre-dawn moments of a fateful summer morning four years ago became an icon of racial bigotry.
Many here believe Tulia, like Jasper, got blamed for something it didn't do and are confounded by demands that it "repent" and mend its evil ways.
"It almost appears to some of us that the media has said that at some point the people here got together and said we want to send black people to jail," Davenport said. "This community didn't invite that sting. No one in this community knew it was going on until the arrests were made."
Davenport said he has seen little evidence of the kind of racial division that has been sketched in many news stories.
On Tuesday, he had lunch with a black minister to talk about the "healing process."
"We never came to a conclusion," he said, suggesting that neither knew where to begin in soothing a non-existent wound.
"The folks in our community would welcome suggestions," Davenport said. "What do they expect us to do."
The town's critics have pointed out that it wasn't just the ill-executed sting, but the harsh sentences meted out by local juries that reeked of racist injustice.
But Davenport, among others, pointed out that many of those seated to judge the defendants were not legal sophisticates.
"They had nothing to go on except what was presented to them by law enforcement and the district attorney, people they believed and trusted," he said.
And let's not forget that Tulia is hardly an isolated case. Don't go telling me that somehow the "system" worked because these folks eventually got their freedom back. They're only free because of the tireless pro-bono work of their attorney, Jeff Blackburn, the media attention that reporter Nate Blakeslee and eventually NYT columnist Bob Herbert brough to the case, and a bill that was rushed through both state legislative chambers because two years could pass before the Court of Criminal Appeals hears the case. The system is broken, which is why these people were arrested and convicted in the first place and why heaven and earth needed to be moved to get them out. How many others, in Texas and elsewhere, are rotting in jail or sitting on Death Row because they don't have the same kind of attention paid to their cases?
I hope Tulia helps to shine a big bright spotlight on our criminal justice system and the so-called "War on Drugs" that has so thoroughly perverted it. Then and only then will I accept that some justice has been done here.Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 18, 2003 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack