Tulia hopes to build new future Rising Above Turmoil of Past


August 17th, 2003

The Amarillo Globe-News

TULIA - For years, most officials in Tulia kept silent as the fallout from the controversial 1999 drug bust blanketed the town and split apart groups of its residents.

The time never seemed right to speak out forcefully against the damage that was being done to Tulia's reputation, and the forces arrayed against the city were too strong.

But now that the controversy has ebbed slightly, leaders of the community have joined with some former foes of the city to take the first step in an ambitious, long-term plan to bring the town together and heal the damage that has been done.

"It probably is the right time," said Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter. "When the rhetoric was flying heavily and the negative publicity was everywhere, we really were limited in what we could say. It's time now to step away from that. We need to find out where is this community, and what can we do for this community."
Keeter has joined forces with other officials from Swisher County and Tulia, as well as interested residents and even a New York standup comic and activist who three years ago seemed only interested in battering Tulia.

"I guess the question is, do you leave the town the way it is and move on," said Randy Credico, who fought the drug bust as a representative of New York's William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice. "What have we accomplished? We came down there and did a lot of PR damage for three years. I think we have an obligation to undo some of that."

Credico is not the only opponent of the drug bust to participate in the new process. Family members of several people who were arrested during the bust are joining in, as well.

Freddie Brookins Sr. has spoken out forcefully against the bust and the people responsible since his son was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he is nonetheless participating in the plan to heal Tulia.
"I just knew we were going to have to put the town back together," Brookins said. "I knew it couldn't go back to the way it was. The only way to do that is to get in there and work at it."

The alliance illustrates a key aspect of the new plan; bringing together all people, regardless of their perspective on the events of the past few years.

Keeter said everyone in Tulia will be welcome to participate as long as they are willing to put aside their views on the bust and work together for the betterment of the town.

"Anyone from either side that has an agenda and is pushing that agenda will not be invited to the table," Keeter said. "But if we've got people that want to make the community better and will work with all people, they're more than welcome."

The first step of the plan will be taken Monday when officials announce the formation of a civilian complaint board. The board will be made up of representatives from the black, white and Hispanic communities in Tulia.
The idea behind the board is to have a group of trusted citizens that can serve as an arbiter between any resident who feels wronged and the entity - private or public - involved in the incident.

Credico said the board - patterned after a similar group in New York - will hear complaints against police, government, schools or private businesses.

The objective will be to get to the root of any bias, real or perceived, and find ways to alleviate the problem.
"The board won't have any legal authority, but it will have a moral authority," Credico said. "It's a great step to have, because now everyone will have a group to go to that represents every aspect of this community and can get things done."

The process will not stop with the review board.

Community leaders have discussed bringing in experts from a couple of prominent universities to study Tulia's drug treatment operation and come up with ways to expand the Driskill Halfway House to meet the city's needs.

Other options being discussed are a community center, expanded day-care options and increased employment opportunities.

And that is just the beginning of a truly long-range plan, Keeter said.

"These are long-term goals we're talking about here," he said. "We're not going to change things in two, three or four years. What we're talking about is 10, 12, 15 years."

Of course, all of these projects will require one thing that is in short supply in Tulia's suffering economy - money. For that resource, the city is looking toward Wall Street business executive Peter Greer.

Greer was in Tulia two weeks ago and met with city planners.

He said he thinks if Tulia can come up with a good plan and get the people behind it, he can come up with money to make things happen.

Ironically, the key to making those things happen may be the very beating that Tulia has taken over the years. Greer said he thinks he can find people and organizations that are, like him, interested in social justice and want a chance to create something positive out of a situation that has so far been entirely negative.

"I think this is a moment where we can sort of be America like we'd like it to be," Greer said. "And that feels good, to everyone."