A Dirty Sweep

ACLU Says Federal Grant Funds War on Minorities in Texas

Crack busts may be easy, but they don't come cheap. While federal grant money funds the badges, the cost of incarceration is passed on to the taxpayer. The ACLU estimates that Texas would save $199 million over two years by abolishing the task forces. In a state currently grappling with an estimated budget deficit as large as $12 billion, the ACLU's appeals for less intrusive government may draw some converts. "We can't afford this approach anymore," says Will Harrell, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. "I think a lot of [legislators] will be rethinking their policies."

The press office for Texas governor Rick Perry did not respond to questions about drug policing. But even if the state did abolish its narcotics task forces, some believe that would only start to solve the problem. Vanita Gupta, an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who has spent much of her time working on the Tulia case, says the complaints aren't limited to Texas. "Tulia represents the tip of the iceberg," she says. "It's a national problem. Since the Legal Defense Fund got involved, we've had calls from different rural communities, mostly in the South. But it's not just the South. It's small towns everywhere where there is a rigged system and poor people of color."

No one knows for sure how many more Tulias already have happened. Activists simply don't have the resources to investigate every state receiving Byrne money, and their cause isn't getting any easier. In a nation preoccupied by the war on terror, they're working to help less sympathetic victims—those people harmed by the war on drugs, waged in the hinterlands of justice.

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