Grits and Egan debunk the drug war

This has not been a good morning for drug warriors. 

Charles Kiker, a founding member of Friends of Justice, sent Scott (Grits) Henson an article from the Amarillo Globe-News touting the need for renewed Byrne grant funding for narcotics task forces.  The basic idea is that Tom Coleman, the “bad apple” Friends of Justice brought to national attention, was an anomaly.  It wasn’t fair to disband the fifty regional narcotics task forces in the state of Texas, the article suggests, just because one nut-job messed up.

Mr. Henson knows more about the dissolution of Texas narcotics task forces than anyone in the state–more than anyone else, he helped make it happen.  In a lengthy and detailed blog post, Scott demolishes the opinions of the self-serving cops quoted in the story, while lamenting the he-said-she-said reporting style that currently passes for “journalistic balance”.

As Scott points out, most Texas task forces disbanded voluntarily after they were placed under the supervision of the Texas Department of Safety.  That’s because the shoddy techniques and lack of oversight that doomed the Tulia operation characterized the small town drug war across the great state of Texas.  Tom Coleman was (and likely remains) a bizarre animal–but the outrages he perpetrated on Tulia, Texas were shaped by a corrupt and chaotic drug war culture facilitated by bucket loads of federal cash.

Scott points to the case of Hearne, Texas, in which a confidential informant named Derrick Megress admitted to fabricating cases on two dozen friends after being threatened with incarceration and jail rape (I’m not making this up). 

Besides, Henson says, narcotics task forces lived off nickel-and-dime street-level dealers, rarely targeting “drug kingpins” or going after narcotics rings.  When you score the same number of points for busting a drug addict dealing for buy-money as you get for reeling in the big fish, you hit the knuckle head on the corner and leave his supplier in peace.

I am currently in Little Rock, Arkansas, researching a story that begins with a Tom Coleman-type cop hooking up with a Derrick Megress-style informant.  The resultant scandal never emerged because Friends of Justice wasn’t on the scene–but we’re here now and (much to the chagrin of the FBI and the Department of Justice) this story will be told in all its bizarre glory and all flesh shall gaze upon it in wonder.

Finally, this graceful opinion piece in the New York Times.  Tim Egan, pinch-hitting for Bob Herbert (the Times columnist who once devoted a dozen columns to the Tulia fiasco), celebrates Rick Steves, the mild-mannered world traveler and Lutheran layman who has recently emerged as an outspoken critic of drug war orthodoxy.  Apparently, most narcotics cops agree with Steves.  No surprise there; I’ve never met a police officer with more than a year’s experience who thinks law enforcement will ever make progress in our nation’s protracted drug war.

Alan Bean

2 thoughts on “Grits and Egan debunk the drug war

  1. The idea that the Tulia thing was the result of “one bad apple” is revisionism to the nth degree. There was one particulrly rotten apple, but it was produced on a rotten tree that was planted and fertilized by a rotten system. Testimony at the evidentiary hearings and at the Coleman perjury trial revealed that the Panhandle Task Force and the Swisher County Sheriff had more than ample warning that Coleman was a bad apple, yet was hired anyway, and that, when they “discovered” his rottenness, they went to extraordiany means to keep it a secret, even manipulating to keep the information away from TCLOES. The latter might well have been obstruction of justice.

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