Zelie Pollon, special contributor to The Dallas Morning News
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Ever since Mattie White's three children were arrested
two years ago during the largest drug sting her town of Tulia, Texas,
ever seen, she's been working overtime.
Now she says she's tired. The 50-year-old has been raising her two grandchildren
and visiting her children whenever she can, she's been working two jobs
and she's trying to change the laws governing drug
was in New Mexico on Tuesday along with five other mothers whose children
are in prison for drug offenses. They had gathered to meet with Gov.
Gary Johnson to kick off a national campaign showing how the drug laws
"It's good we're all coming together, but it's also very sad to
hear everyone's story," she said. "When your kids become incarcerated
for such a long time, you become incarcerated, too."
Calling themselves the "Mothers of the Disappeared," the women
will end their seven-day tour in Tulia, marking the two-year anniversary
of the controversial drug sting in the Panhandle community of 4,700,
45 miles south of Amarillo.
In the July 23, 1999, sting operation, forty-six Tulia residents, -
43 of whom were black - were charged with cocaine possession based on
the testimony of one undercover officer. About 250 black people live
One year later the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, accusing
local officials of singling out black people to run them out of town.
The NAACP has filed several lawsuits. Twenty residents remain in prison
while others are on parole or on probation.
The mothers plan to open a Tulia office, the second of what they hope
will be several nationwide.
This year, the Texas Legislature, responding to the Tulia case, made
drug convictions contingent on corroborating evidence, and not solely
on the testimony of a single drug agent. Sentencing laws were not changed.
"Most of those people in Tulia are first-time offenders,"
said Elaine Bartlett, who served 16 years in a maximum security prison
for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. She wants changes in New
York's so-called Rockefeller drug laws, which require among the harshest
mandatory minimum sentences in the nation.
"These severe drug laws were made for kingpins, but that's not
who's being put in jail," she said.
"This is putting a human face on the war on drugs," said Mr.
Johnson, who has been hailed as a visionary and a hero since he became
the highest elected official to call for decriminalizing marijuana.
"I don't think there's a bigger issue going," he said, adding,
"If we ever get around to changing drug laws, we'll easily be able
to shut down our private prisons."
Teresa Aviles' son Terrence died mysteriously in New York, eight years
into a 23-year sentence for a nonviolent drug offense. The black mother
has yet to receive a full accounting of what happened; the death certificate
she received was for a white man.
"My son had never done any other offense, and what he essentially
received was a death sentence," said the 53-year-old from New York.
"There is something wrong when people who kill get out in seven
years and you get accused of selling drugs ? without any evidence ?
and you get 25 years to life. What kind of society is that?"
As for her meeting with New Mexico's governor, Ms. Aviles offered an
exchange. "I wish we could take him back to New York and give New
Mexico[New York Gov. George] Pataki."
The mothers will participate in a NAACP forum on race and the drug war
in Amarillo on Friday, then will arrive in Tulia by Sunday for their
"Never Again" rally.