buchi della verita of edna, texas

A couple days ago, LI was perusing the collected radio speeches of Ronald Reagan, circa 1976-1979. Research, doncha know, for my novel. In any case, they were impressive, and happily distant from the ape-like norm that now rules the air waves on the right. The Gipper extolled Scottsdale, Arizona, for instance, for having a private fire fighting department. The Gipper said that this was part of trimming the government’s extension into sphere where they didn’t belong and functioned below par. The Gipper pointed out that the Labour government in Great Britain was turning, in desperation, away from the statist model and towards free enterprise. The Gipper pointed out that the Socialist party in Sweden had lost to the Conservatives, and this was because Sweden, in desperation, was turning away from the statist model and towards free enterprise. The Gipper went to Japan and was impressed with the work ethic, which he attributed to free enterprise. So, when I came upon the radio address about California lessening the offense of possessing marijuana to a misdemeanor (oh those dear seventies days!), I expected to read some hurray from the Gipper, as here was a primo, obvious improvement in a problem that could surely be solved, better, by the private sphere. But no. Instead, the Gipper quoted Daryl Gates, who made it clear that making marijuana into a misdemeanor would mean kids (KIDS!) would be getting hold of marijuana. Oddly, the fact that, say, kids would be breathing in toxic fumes from polluting factories didn’t seem to stir the Gipper to the bottom of his soul, but that kids might be getting jolts of THC definitely did.

Why the discrepancy? Well, let’s put it in six letters: B-L-A-C-K-S. The scourge of drug prohibition begins and ends with race in this country. To put not to fine a point about it, the country went into mourning, in the sixties, as its handicraft, its precious tradition of Jim Crow laws was slowly taken away from it. And the country hasn’t come out of that mourning yet.

A case in point is this article by Austin’s best journalist, Jordan Smith. It isn’t only the quality of her work (generally, I read the Chronicle, where I used to contribute, for two things: Smith and the movie schedules). I once talked to a man in the D.A.’s department, and he complained that Smith was the worst reporter he knew of, distorting everything. Which told me that Smith was that rare reporter who wasn’t a law and order shill.

Smith’s article is about another Tulia: Edna, Texas. This time, the bigot who is intent, under cover of law, on imprisoning blacks, the oldest of the Jim Crow moves in the post-bellum South, is a D.A. named Bell. One hopes that Smith’s article will spotlight Bell, and bring some attention to this town from the National press. Otherwise, Jim Crow is certainly going to be victorious once again.

"Eight of the defendants were located at one time in a bar in Edna. Four more were gathered up that same night," breathlessly reported the Edna Herald on Nov. 20. "The bottom line is that this type of conduct will not be tolerated here in Jackson County," sheriff Kelly R. Janica told the paper at the time. "We are going to do our job to keep drugs from infecting our streets." (And as this story was in preparation, it appears the job was far from completed – see "'Crackdown' Becomes 'Shutdown,'" below.)
But, in what has become an all-too-typical tale of rogue criminal justice in rural Texas – epitomized by the infamous 1999 Tulia drug sting – it appears that the Edna "crackdown" had much less to do with eradicating drugs than it did with institutionalized, small-town racism. Under the guise of removing drugs (specifically, crack cocaine) from the streets, local lawmen may have themselves broken state law, primarily by relying on a local crack addict as their sole informant to send 28 of the 29 defendants to prison for sentences from one to 20 years. Only two of the defendants, including Patterson, dared to challenge the charges in court; the rest accepted plea bargains offered by longtime Jackson Co. District Attorney Bobby Bell. They did so, it seems certain, in large part out of fear of challenging Bell's authority and thus receiving even heavier sentences. (Charges were dismissed in one case.)
One white Edna resident who requested anonymity, fearing retaliation, said bluntly that Bell's attitude is "'I'll break you, I'll take everything you've got; so take the plea [or] I'll make sure you go to jail.' He does as he pleases."
What happens when you are a successful black man in Edna, as Rick Patterson was, is that the spirit of Jim Crow comes to get you. And that spirit comes in the form of … drug enforcement. Smith article involves the heartbreaking imprisonment of a man who did nothing but – incautiously – pleaded innocent. A plea that was backed up by the inconvenient fact that there was no evidence against him. However, that there is no physical evidence that Rick Patterson has ever even touched cocaine did not prevent Rick Patterson from being sent to jail for ten years (no doubt, keeping kids in L.A. just that hair breadth away from getting crack themselves – the spirit of the Gipper must be pleased). What sent him down? The usual. First, the cops create the crime. Second, they use an informant who is a criminal. Third, they sorta direct the criminal to the right (black) neighborhood. Fourth, they rely on the criminal’s word, and take that before a white judge and a mostly white jury. Case closed, legal pogram completed, next black man to be processed through the hell hole.
Right, this is all about the children.
Actually, this is all about an empire in which, slowly, the population has grown to accept the very idea that the police can generate crimes, and that this is acceptable. LI has a few questions. Leading questions, of course.
Q: How many movies have shown, with maximum satisfaction, ‘sting’ operations?
A: Go to your local video store’s action movie section and start counting. Multiply by one thousand.
Q: How many movies have shown any, any objection to the abhorrent, criminal, libertystripping, tyrannical idea that one should ever allow a police force this kind of power?
A: Approximately none.
Q: What are “sting” operations connected to, most of the time?
A: Drug enforcement. The DEA spent almost its entire institutional life sending police out, undercover, to make drug deals so as to arrest people who we involved in them. This has gone on, unquestioned, day after day, as the prison population in this country has been jumped a bit behind China, a country with three times our population. This, in a country that is supposedly free by all the indexes of all the heritage like think tanks. Oh, and of course countries are also regularly judged on corruption, too. Bad Egypt. Bad Chad. Funny, the most rampant and dangerous form of corruption there is – allowing a police force to generate the crimes it then punishes – somehow doesn’t get on the index. Could it be that the indexers figure that such fates only befall their maids?
Ah, but such questions reveal an envious, a class biased, and most of all a resentful turn of mind on the part of LI. Heavens, drug prohibition as a weapon of racism? As a way of stripping the meaning from the Bill of Rights? surely it is all about the children. Surely LI hasn’t gotten the message that racism was overcome in the U.S. It happened fast – in fact, it happened on January 7, 1971, at 3 a.m. The non-racism fairy came and waved her wand, and that was that. Since then, talk of racism is just outré. Couldn’t happen. Not in the big, compassionate heart of the American dream. Not in East Texas.

Read Smith’s article. And distribute where you can.
p.s. -- just to be clear about race inflected bannings -- I suspect the same complex of motives is often behind banning handguns. Handgun laws invariably lead to processing more black men through the prison system. Putting gun laws in the hands of the cops is not a good idea.


Brian Miller said…
Never use them-I feel I have enough bad habits. I think they are not very healthy. But, the Police State is worse, far worse. Thanks for a great essay, roger.
roger said…
Thanks Brian. And I am serious about spreading Jordan's article through the blogosphere, if possible. This is one of those cases that will melt away merely through national attention. Reading over my post, I see that I didn't emphasize strongly enough the injustice that happened in Edna, simply because I want people to read Smith's piece. I should have said this, which is something I put in an email to a friend, yesterday. Excuse the rather hyper-excited language:

...here is how the
sickening story goes. This guy, Rick Patterson, is a good guy. He works in a
fucking factory to bring up his kids and educate them and get them out of
fucking Edna, where he knows the skin color is the mark of Cain. And then
these white fucking cops get a crackhead to make "recordings" of who she is
buying crack from, and even on the recording she doesn't buy crack from
Patterson -- no, somebody on the recording who they then throw in the
slammer claims, after they give him a deal, that he bought crack from
Patterson. No physical evidence at all, house isn't searched, no search of
the Patterson bank account to account for the money claimed to flow to the
man. Hearsay on hearsay. Can you believe it? And the guy is famous in the
community for being anti-drug. So Patterson decides to plead innocent, and
that is when Bell, a man who should burn in hell, decides, okay, I'll fuck
with you, so he takes Patterson's wife in. A fifty five year old church
goer, who he threatens with fifteen years, but two on parole if she pleads
out. She sees her husband go down for ten, and cracks -- and then he reneges on the deal to her and gives her five the hard way. Oh I want to kill this guy. This is so NORMAL for small Texas towns, it isn't even funny.
Alan said…

Assuming that the critic of Jordan Smith you mention is the person I'm thinking about -- someone you met through me -- he works for the Austin PD, not the DA.

That's not important. My point is:

I read the Chronicle article too. I found it less than conclusive that Patterson was framed -- although it certainly raised enough disturbing questions to warrant an extensive investigation. It seems extremely unlikely that Patterson's the kind of guy who would sell crack -- but I can't conclude that it's impossible (I say this in part because of the middle-class white folks I've known who worked hard to support their families while peddling dope on the side.) The indictment of his wife later on, as well as Patterson's subsequent perjury indictment, are pretty damning details, too.

My reservation in concluding definitely that the guy was framed is primarily this: If the evidence against him was so flimsy, why did the jury convict? The obvious answer was that it was a racist jury, which may well be true. Smith's story would have been much stronger if she'd tried to talk to some of the jurors, or even given us more detailed accounts of the trial itself. She gives no indication in the story of having made any effort to contact any jurors, and the only account of the trial itself comes from one of Patterson's lawyers. I imagine she could have found some of those people willing to talk (consider the willingness of the OJ Simpson jurors to spill to the press.) Interviews with some of those jurors might have provided some worthwhile insight into the racist mindset. (And if they wouldn't talk to her, she could have told us so.) A few years ago a writer tracked down some of the surviving jurors from the Emmett Till murder case. They insisted, 40 years later, that they didn't come into the courtroom predisposed to convict; rather they still claim that they found credible the defense's (preposterous) claim that the body fished out of the river wasn't Till's, and that he was still alive up in Chicago.

My point is not to argue that Patterson and the other defendants are guilty; it seems to me likely that they were framed. I wish rather to challenge your reasoning that, because Smith is distrusted by those in law enforcement, that it means she "isn't a law an order shill" and that this, if I read you correctly, enhances her credibility as a journalist. Why should the claims of crusading journalists be subjected to any less scrutiny and skepticism than those of law enforcement officials and other government hacks? Is it because the latter are in positions of greater institutional authority? If so, please complete the argument. Why is political power any more likely to be corrupting than, say, the desire for journalistic fame?

Seems to me you have two choices: Either (a) advocates for the oppressed are inherently more likely to be trustworthy than those in positions of power, or (b) whether or not they're inherently more likely to tell the truth (in the narrow, bourgeois sense of adhering to the facts of the matter), we should be inclined to believe them for basically "political" reasons; i.e., to address an imbalance of power.

And a related point. About the following passage:

Ah, but such questions reveal an envious, a class biased, and most of all a resentful turn of mind on the part of LI. Heavens, drug prohibition as a weapon of racism? As a way of stripping the meaning from the Bill of Rights? surely it is all about the children. Surely LI hasn’t gotten the message that racism was overcome in the U.S. It happened fast – in fact, it happened on January 7, 1971, at 3 a.m. The non-racism fairy came and waved her wand, and that was that. Since then, talk of racism is just outré. Couldn’t happen. Not in the big, compassionate heart of the American dream. Not in East Texas.

Whom is that parody of an imaginary critic supposed to persuade? And if the answer is "No one," then what is its purpose? Is it to intimidate one's critics into keeping their mouth shut?

(This is less a question about the particular issue at hand than it is about the value of polemics in general, which is a question that is a lot on my mind when I consider the overall state of the blogosphere.)
roger said…
Alan, such a lot of questions, my man!
Start with the last one first:

persuasion isn't the sole function of language. The parenthetical remarks are -- parenthetical. They contain an arguable content -- you can argue with it -- but they contain a goodly dose of exasperation. The exasperation is about what I consider one of the great injustices of the twentieth century, one that has caused countless harms not only to the people imprisoned, but to countries like Mexico and Columbia and Afghanistan, etc. In fact, I don't think social action happens as a result of engineering talk -- so I include some of that, but I include exasperation as well. Your objection to it seems to be that it is purposeless. But I don't really think that that is your objection. Let's say my exasperated tone had more of an effect than, say, a cold presentation of the facts. I imagine that would disturb you more. Your deep objection, then, is that the remark is demagogic. To which I will plead guilty. I don't see how you can exclude demagogy from argument in a democratic society. I don't want to base the whole of my post on it, but I definitely don't want to treat it like an unwanted visitor, either.

As for Jordan, my remark that she isn't a police shill has to do with her not buying into the premise that police enforcement of an unjust law, using sting operations, is something cool. In fact, I think journalist generally enable police oppression. Instead of writing about whether sting operations are right --whether, in fact, they don't do immense injury to democratic culture -- they accept them as an undiscussed good, the condition that they will assume, in which they will report the 'facts". How many stories about police action ever question the premise that the police should have acted? That is why I like Jordan Smith.

Finally, I'm amazed that you were pursuaded by the conviction of the wife, charged five months later and after Patterson had pleaded innocent, to be indicative of Patterson's guilt. To my mind, that was an outrageous punishment meted out by a prosecutor bent on bending a man who refused to plea bargain. And I think what we have to do here is not compare this case to Emmett Till, but to Tulia. As Smith points out in the article, by almost any reasonable reading of the law passed after the Tulia convinctions were overturned setting the rules for conviction in cases of no physical evidence and eyewitness testimony from one person, the Patterson convictions are illegal. Plain and simple. I'm surprised that that part of the article didn't strike you. The law was amended in the wake of Tulia, according to Smith, ."..to provide that no defendant could be convicted of dealing drugs in connection with an undercover operation based solely on the testimony of a confidential informant who is not a cop but is operating "under the color of law enforcement," unless that testimony is corroborated by evidence that does more than simply reiterate the allegation that a crime took place." Did you find any evidence mentioned in the article -- any pictures of drug transactions, any accounts of money passing through the Patterson checking account, any results of a house search -- that Patterson was in posssession of crack? The only physical evidence was a id of a voice on the tape that wasn't even pressed in court, since Bell didn't want to embarrass himself.

I would bet that the lawyers from the Tulia case will get it overturned on that alone -- which, of course, Edna's D.A. will call a technicality.
Alan said…
To clarify one point -- when I said that the additional indictments were "damning details", I meant that they were damning to the prosecution's case.
roger said…
Alan, interestingly, this article has been picked up by a couple of other bloggers -- one associated with Southern Studies, and the other a political blog for Texans which is pretty good, www.burntorangereport.com (Burnt Orange Report).

I usually pick up and then abandon my crusades, save for my continuing Iraqomania. But I am going to try to periodically update about the Edna scandal. I understand your doubts about the, shall we say, bloggish penchant for injecting rabid language into the social temperament. But there are cases in which a little attention can actually do a good thing.
Anonymous said…
I live in jackson county and got framed to. I am moving here in a couple of weeks but bobby bell is a cocaine head!!!! I know someone who got arrested for 1 kilo but he had 5 kilo's on him and u tell me that is not crooked
Anonymous said…
I am white and got frmaed it is all about money over here sazas
Anonymous said…
For anyone who lives in Edna/Jackson County that are of the lower class will spend the rest of their lives in and out of the system. I too am from Edna and was one of the blessed ones that got out. It did not start with Operation Crackdown, nor did it end with Operation Shutdown. The police and the DA have gotten worse and if someone does not find the courage to bring down "THE GOOD OLE BOY OPERATION" there will not be one singe minority left. THOSE PEOPLE ARE SCARED and they are scared to challenge the DA. THIS IS THE SAME DA THAT RAN OVER A WOMAN AND KILLED HER WHILE DRINKING AND DRIVING....some judge found it fit to spare his ass and give him a shot at being free. THIS IS THE SAME DA THAT RUMOR HAS IT JUST GOT STOPPED IN CUERO TEXAS AND BUSTED WITH POWDER COCAINE HIMSELF. Even though Jordan Smith article was put out in 2005 not much has changed since then. Continue to spread the word and get that man out of the District Court System.
Anonymous said…
alegations about killing someone while driving drunk and possession of cocaine are strong allegations. Any proof or details about such allegations?
Anonymous said…
I don't know if anyone still reading this but I was charged in2005 for something I don't not do. The only proof Is possession is 9/10 of the law.
I was pulled over for supposivly swirving when I waived at the JC Sherriff on the side of 59 and he pulled me over wanting to search my vehicle. I had nothing to hide I was a minor and had alcohol in the vehicle and a 357 pistol for traveling which is legal. Not when the Sherriff puts marijuana and cocaine in your vehicle then it's a charge. A second Sherriff showed up while Garcia was searching my vehicle and distracted me when Garcia came and told me I was under arrest for the possession of marijuana and cocaine. Not for the pistol. Or the Dwi. After blowing .28. I was driving from south Texas and I went through a check point. Drug dog smelled my truck and I DID NOT do drugs at all. I took a drug test the next day and passed. The small amount supposivly in my vehicle was not enough to sell. Bell threatened and said if I faught it I would spend 20+ in prison at a young age. I was terrified. I told him I would plead guilty to what I was guilty of that was it. He advised against it. This has ruined my life. I can't get good jobs. I can't get good car insurance. All because of a crooked system that generates money for a crooked DA. If someone would investigate just a little, it would be amazing what they would find. People need to stand up and fight back against a sorry system. Look at the times that bell disappears in the 90's I believe. And why he did. What was going on during that time.
roger said…
Anonymous, I urge you to get into contact with the Austin Chronicle. Call them up and tell them your story. They might at least publicize this awful thing. I used to work for them, freelance - they are good people.
roger said…
Anonymous, I urge you to get into contact with the Austin Chronicle. Call them up and tell them your story. They might at least publicize this awful thing. I used to work for them, freelance - they are good people.