Tulia besieged: 'Taking our the Trash in Tulia, Texas'

The story of Tulia has propelled the careers of a handful of journalists and documentary filmmakers. And the now-infamous 1999 drug sting in the small Panhandle town that put 16 percent of the town’s black residents in jail on manufactured evidence by a crooked lawman was to be is being produced* as a full-length feature film set to be released this year starring Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry. But the public story has been mostly the domain of outsiders, where out-of-state crusaders are able to unpack all the worst preconceptions of rural Texas — notions not challenged in the least by the obvious racism on display in Tulia a decade ago. But an insider’s account has finally broken loose, penned by a key player in this devastating drama. Protestant minister and now author Alan Bean opens with the inflammatory headline that first alerted the town’s 5,000 residents that 46 of their neighbors had been busted in the town’s largest-ever drug sweep. It read simply, “Tulia’s streets cleared of garbage.” While certainly not polished literature, Bean’s book is better. The lively, exquisitely detailed, and engrossing read hones in on the ways that national media changed the local conversation for good and ill and chronicles how seemingly supportive state and national human-rights groups frequently competed with each other and sometimes worked at cross purposes with those relying on their assistance to achieve justice. Taking Out the Trash is a complex narrative, demonstrating that even in the starkest morality tales, human nature inevitably harbors innumerable shades and shadows.

An indispensible offering in the growing Tulia canon.

Taking Out the Trash in Tulia, Texas

By Alan Bean
Advanced Concept Design Books

$16.95, pp 386

*Though cited as being in production by a variety of film outlets (including IMBd) with various anticipated release dates. Efforts to track down the most recent production company ended with a disconnected phone line. Not good.


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