01/28/09 - Cassandra Herrman

Cassandra Herrman, producer of new PBS documentary "Tulia Texas" & Tulia defense attorney Jeff Blackburn + Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Cassandra Herrman
Independent Lens


Cultural Baggage, January 28, 09

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

It’s not only inhumane it is really fundamentally un-American….. ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’

My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Alright. News coming out of the International Herald Tribune. Vienna, the United Nations’ crime and drug watchdog has indications that money made in illicit drug trade has been used to keep banks afloat in the global financial crisis.

Vienna based, UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa said, in an interview released by Austrian Weekly Profil that drug money often became the only available capitol when the crisis spiraled out of control last year.

“In many instance, drug money is currently the only liquid investment capitol,” Costa was quoted as saying to Profil. “In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capitol became an important factor.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had found evidence that “interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade activities.”

There’s only one way to run a drug war
You have to make one choice
It’s the Silver or the lead.

No need to think about it
Take the money or you’re dead
The drug war lives on forever

Alright, friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. We’re going to have a couple of great guests for you today. I’m wearing my Tulia ‘Journey for Justice’ t-shirt in honor of this occasion. With that, let’s go ahead and bring in our first guest. She is the co-producer of a brand new movie fixing to make it’s debut on PBS and let’s go ahead and welcome Cassandra Herrman. Hello, Cassandra.

Cassandra Herrman: Hi Dean. Thanks for having me.

Dean Becker: Well, thank you for joining us. If you will, tell us about your first involvement. What got you headed toward making this movie, "Tulia Texas."

Cassandra Herman: Well, I co-produced the film “Tulia Texas” with a woman named Kelly Whalen and she and I, back in 2002, we ran a series of columns in the New York Times, written by Bob Herbert. At the outset we were just sort of stunned at the facts of the situation. This was a town of 5,000 people and 46 people had been arrested for selling powder cocaine and 39 of them were African American.

So, we made some phone calls to people in the town and they seemed receptive to having us come and so we just got on an airplane and flew there and started talking with people. Our goal was to try to get access to everyone involved in the story from, what we call, the architects of the injustice to the former defendants, to try to paint a full picture of what had happened.

We were successful over time, so we basically took about thirteen trips to the town over the course of nearly five years. It will be airing on PBS on the series, Independent Lens on February 10th.

Dean Becker: I’ll tell you what, let’s go ahead and play just a little clip from it and we’ll come back to you here in just a moment Cassandra.

Welcome to Independent Lens. I’m Terrence Howard, your host. Now, in the war on drugs, Tulia, Texas was an important battle ground. You see, after the big drug bust came down, it looked like a simple case of good guys vs. bad guys. But the problem was, it wasn’t clear who was who.

Cop: That person, when I’m sitting on that witness stand, he’s sitting over there with his defense attorney and he’s looking me in the eye and I’m looking him in the eye, he knows that he handed me that dope and I handed him the money. That’s it.

Terrence Howard: Independent producers, Cassandra Herrman and Kelly Whalen, discovered there is more than one version of the truth, than the small town that tried to solve it’s problems with an undercover cop.

The arrests in Tulia captured national headlines. But bigger questions linger on. What happens to civil rights when you can convict someone on one mans word against another’s? Who wins and loses in the war on drugs?

“Tulia Texas”, next on Independent Lens.


What’s this story about? This story’s about a small, quiet little town in the panhandle of Texas, that got sick and tired of the dope dealers and they hired me and I stood up for ‘em.

This is a story about a town, that want to send a message to the black community.

I think the story is simply about a community doing it’s best to do what they believe is right.

This young man was stolen from his family and stolen from his community.

This is a story about how our idea of justice gets corrupted when we declare war on something.

One of my friends called me and said, ‘Hey, they suppose to having a lot of trouble with narcotics in a little town around Amarillo somewhere.’ So, I said ‘OK‘. So, I got on the telephone and I made a few phone calls and found out it was Tulia.

Dean Becker: OK. Once again we’re speaking with Cassandra Herrman, co-producer of a brand new movie, “Tulia Texas”. Cassandra, I wanted to point out, a couple of the voices they heard there were, I think the first protagonist (what-ever you want to call it) was Mr. Tom Coleman, the ’cop’, the undercover…

Cassandra Herrman: Exactly.

Dean Becker: …that had his own troubles following this incident, did he not?

Cassandra Herrman: Yeah. Tom had a lot… He was awarded the Texas Lawman of the Year distinction after his work in Tulia and then it went downhill from there. He was fired from a couple Task Forces and then he was indicted on three felony counts of perjury and he was convicted but, only received probation. He got ten years probation, so he’ll be on probation till 2015. He’s appealed it twice and was denied and the only kind of silver lining is that he’ll never be able to work in Law Enforcement again.

Dean Becker: Well, that’s some positive, I think, out of this. He was known using the “N” word. He was known for; he actually had charges for theft while this investigation was going on, right?

Cassandra Herrman: Yeah. It’s incredible. A warrant was served against him, in the middle of his investigation and his supervisors; the Sheriff of Tulia and the Taskforce sure decided to sweep that under the rug and they booked him outside of the county line and apparently he paid off the money that he owed and then they put him right back on the job.

None of this came out until later. I think some enterprising attorneys tried to bring it up during the trials and then the judges denied all of their motions. So it wasn’t until the evidentiary hearing, much later when people had been imprisoned for nearly four years, that this finally came out.

Dean Becker: Now there were the original convictee’s, I hope that’s the right word, received just onerous sentences, did they not? Tell us about that sequence of events and how it led others to plead.

Cassandra Herrman: They did, yeah. It was sort of done very strategically the first trial with a man named Joe Moore and he’d had a prior charge on his record that made it sort of easier for them to give him a longer sentence. But, they gave him ninety years which is just, jaw dropping and basically, that set the tone and then there was a sixty year sentence. There was our main character that we feature, Freddie Brookins, Jr. got twenty years for a first offence, for one charges of selling to Tom Coleman.

What happened is that people, you know, rightly panicked and started to plea out because they were just terrified that they were gonna be going to jail for these enormously long times and part of the reason that they were able to do this is that, a lot of the sentences were enhanced charges because they were supposedly in drug free zones, which is a thousand feet from a park or a school; and if you look at a small town like Tulia, that’s pretty much any corner. Those were all put into place under when Bush was Governor.

Dean Becker: We have a similar situation all across America, really. You get up into New England and you can’t hardly find a place that’s not within the required distance from a school or a park…

Cassandra Herrman: Exactly.

Dean Becker: …and it leads to those enhanced sentences. I think the American population and even some of the politicians are beginning to realize that we can no longer afford to be this draconian; this mad at our fellow citizens for their choice of intoxicants. What’s your thought on that?

Cassandra Herrman: I hope so. With the new administration, I think there’s some hope and then there’s also some cause for concern. I mean, Obama’s stimulus plan includes three billion dollars for the Byrne Grant, which is the grant that funded this task force and continues to fund. There’s over 600 existing task forces in the country.

On the other hand, Vice President Biden, when he was Senator, introduced a bill to repeal the 100/1 crack cocaine sentencing law which is, you know, the single most significant factor contributing to racial disparity and drug sentencing. So, that’s hopeful and that would go a long way toward improving the situation but I still think that we need to kind of push for reform and at least oversight our accountability for these grants.

Dean Becker: But, following on the heals of this situation; the wrap up of Tulia situation, Texas did indeed, do away with all their Drug Task Forces. Am I right?

Cassandra Herrman: They did. Yeah. There’s still activity, but it’s not funded under these Byrne Grants, so that was one positive outcome for sure and there was another achievement. They managed to pass a law that you can no longer use the uncorroborated word of a snitch; of an undercover informant.

So I think, obviously symbolically what the towns people and the lawyers achieved with Tulia will hopefully help keep something like this from happening again but, technically the funding and laws are still in place. I mean there nowhere in this country that an undercover officer requires corroboration. I mean he can still, based solely on his word, convict someone.

Dean Becker: Well, I look forward to seeing the response around the country, to the premier of ‘ya all’s fine documentary. I did have a chance to look at it. It’s powerfully done…

Cassandra Herrman: Oh, thank you, Dean.

Dean Becker: Similar stories, perhaps not on the scale, the massive scale that happened in Tulia but, similar stories go on, not just in Texas but all across America. Don’t they?

Cassandra Herrman: Yes. Now, I mean, that’s what was a discovery for us was there’s been dozens of scandal’s like this around the country and so it continues to happen and there’s no real reason why Tulia, something to that degree, could not happen again today, anywhere in this country. That’s really sort of the message that we hope people walk away with.

Our goal is to try to sort of humanize these statistics about the drug wars. There’s just some appalling statistics when it comes to race. Four years of someone’s life is not a statistic.

Dean Becker: I want to give you a minute if you will to kind of sum of the time frame, the channel and maybe a website where folks can learn more about this great movie, “Tulia Texas”.

Cassandra Herrman: Sure. The film will be airing on the PBS series, Independent Lens, which will air on February 10th, 2009. So very, very soon and the web site that people can go to if they’d like to find out more about it is www.pbs.org/independentlens/tuliatexas.

Dean Becker: I look forward to seeing more productions from ya all in the future.

Cassandra Herrman: Great. Thank you, Dean. We appreciate it.

Dean Becker: Alright. Thank you, Cassandra.

It’s time to play: "Name That Drug - By It’s Side Effects!"

Nausea, photophobia, phonophobia, gastrointestinal events including bleeding, ulceration and perforation of the stomach or intestines. Thrombosis, myocardial infarctions, stroke, cerebral hemorrhage and death.


Time’s up! The answer from GlaxoSmithKlein,

Treximet. For migraine headaches.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. As an international organization, an NGO of non-government organization member, we often get invited to speak outside the United States.

ENCOD, European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, has invited LEAP to participate in their Coca 2009: Debate, in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. The theme of which is, From Persecution To Proposal. I will be a guest speaker on March 4th and I will tour you up speaking to civic organizations, a couple of German Police organizations, a police group in Paris, France and then onto the Netherlands for some meetings and culminating in Vienna, Austria to attend the United Nations Ministerial Summit on Drugs.

This is a follow on meeting that our Executive Director, Mr. Jack Cole attended in Vienna, September of last year and one of which the NGO recommended to the United Nations that the current drug policy be changed from arrest and incarceration to one of harm reduction.

We don’t know if the U.N. General Assembly will accept the resolution agreed to by the ten participating world regions for a floor vote or not, as of now. But if they do vote on it and it passes the floor, than I believe we can expect to see some major changes for world drug policy.

We at LEAP and other drug policy organizations, continue to show how the current drug policy has failed. We all are continuously barraged by the government organizations that wish to continue the policy and, of course, they are better funded and have the power of the government behind them.

But even with the David and Goliath match-up, we reformers have made tremendous headway against the entrenched government bureaucracy, I know we will win as I constantly fall back on an old Texas Ranger motto: No man in the wrong, can stand up against the man that is in the right and keeps on coming.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you out there that support the efforts of our and other reform organizations and if you need to know what you can do to let your representative know how you feel, just go to www.wecandoitagain.net and follow the instructions.

We can and we will make our voices heard. We must stop incarcerating people that are doing no harm to others and spend the money and effort on finding cures for addictive substances, instead of locking up our citizens and breaking up our families.

There has to be a solution that will work for all of us. This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, www.leap.cc, signing off.

Alright. Well, we’re going to bring in our good friend, Jeff Blackburn. Are you with us, Sir?

Jeff Blackburn: I sure am and glad to be here.

Dean Becker: Well Jeff, it’s good to have you with us. You know, I’ve, over the years, really come to admire you and feel much simpatico with the work, because I think we’re both trying to do the same thing. To unveil and expose this fraud for what it is. Right?

Jeff Blackburn: Well, we are and I got to tell you, what you’re doing, Dean, and this program, not only with the program but this work of informational art that you’ve created, is a great thing. Incredible pleasure to always be on the show.

I’m a supporter of yours, as you know and I think that you have done a lot to actually begin to; just by being the voice and being out there on a regular basis, I think it’s starting to pay off. I think people’s ideas are beginning to change and that’s since I think we’re doing a lot of the same kind of work.

Dean Becker: I think I met you first in Austin? At the Journey for Justice event? Were you there?

Jeff Blackburn: That’s right. That’s right.

Dean Becker: That was the day I became an activist. I’d thought about it. I’d looked at this. I’d been on the internet. I’d uncovered the truth of the matter, but I just didn’t feel I could do anything. But, when I was marching next to that little 7 yr. old black kid and he knew it was going to make a difference and somehow, I did too. You know, just because of his hope.

Your thoughts Jeff? I mean, we’ve got to work. We can’t just know this and not do anything about it. It’s necessary that people get involved. Right?

Jeff Blackburn: Well absolutely, because you know the bad guys, the government with the failed policies that they continue to enforce over and over again, rely on people’s; not on peoples accepting their policies, because we know now that in this country, certainly the majority of people do not support the idea of marijuana prohibition.

I mean, I’ve discovered this over and over again. You can try a case in front of a jury, in a conservative town, on a medical sort of necessity theory and they’ll go your way. It’s because in general, people are clear on this issue.

What the government relies on is not support. They rely on inertia. They rely on people just figuring that somebody else will go change something. They rely on people figuring, ‘Oh, that’s going to change eventually anyway, something will get done,’ and therefore doing nothing.

Every time that the folks that agree with us; and I really do believe that on many issues, that’s a majority or a near majority, do nothing, the bad guys take that as a vote for them, for something. So, if we stop doing nothing and start doing something, that takes that away from their little column and that’s really what this is all about. That’s why activism is so important. Plus it does something else.

When you connect with other people that you agree with and what you happen to agree with happens to be right, it’ll change your life, just like it did with you and just like it did with me in another generation. The great advantage of doing this is that we make ourselves better human beings.

Dean Becker: Oft times I hear from people that are driving, say from here to Odessa; or here to Florida and they get stopped in Louisiana or wherever, for a minor amount of drug. They some how get tricked into saying, ’Ok, you can search the car,’ and then they want to take their car. They want to take all the cash in their pocket. They want to fleece them for any property that’s in that vehicle. It’s just a scam, isn’t it?

Jeff Blackburn: Oh, absolutely. But, you know it’s going to get worse, too. Because look, we need to step back from the situation and look at it objectively for a minute. Governments, especially local governments; county governments, city governments, in Texas and everyplace else, are running out of money. Some of them are flat bankrupt. They don’t want to talk about it yet, but they are and there are a lot of reason’s for that.

It’s because of the way their property taxes get paid, which largely revolve around houses being sold. Not just houses existing, that pay taxes, but houses being sold where they actually collect taxes at the time of closing. If that market slows down, these counties are going to begin to implode.

They are not, they are not going to start saying, ’Well, I guess we’re just going to have to reduce the size of government. If we know anything about government, and it doesn’t matter what flag is flying or what banner was waving, they never trim down. They’re just not into that.

Dean Becker: Well, I think you indicated, it’s just going to get worse. You know we have, I don’t know if you were able to catch this, early in the show, I was reading this news from International Herald Tribune, in essence the International New York Times, talking about the U.N. Drug Czar, Antonio Maria Costa said that, ‘interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade during this fiasco,’ and that ties in with what I’ve been saying for years that, I say the cartels run both sides of the equation.

I don’t mean just some guy in Columbia is running this. I’m saying, the international banking and drug and corporate cartels. They thrive. They make their money from this policy and yet, how can you find all of them guilty at once or you know, the corruption may be widespread, but it doesn’t seem to be universal. Your thoughts on that, Jeff?

Jeff Blackburn: Oh. Well, it tells you a lot about it. The problem is, that there are a whole lot of people that benefit from this whole failed policy. Certainly, we got cops, we got politicians, we’ve now got bankers into the mix, because they’ve made a great deal of money off of being able to effectively launder all of these assets.

I mean, we’ve gotten to a point where, it’s very interesting because, this bad policy, the whole drug war has led us directly to a spot where it’s sort of like, every time you hear people talking about reforming the tax code, for example having a flat tax, one of the first arguments against it is, ’Well, look at all the IRS agents we’d have to lay off. We can’t do that. That’d be like shutting down General Motors.’ We got so damn many of them.

Dean Becker: Well, I have a friend, Catherine Austin Fitts who, her website Solari, talks about that. That if we were to legalize drugs, it would impact the stock market with a huge financial collapse, immediately.

Jeff Blackburn: Oh, absolutely.

Dean Becker: Because so much money is laundered through these corporations. We are speaking to Mr. Jeff Blackburn. I think you were made attorney of the year, were you not?

Jeff Blackburn: That’s right. Yeah. Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year. It’s not really quite, I mean; normally they only give awards like that out to, maybe not so much the criminal side but on the; the State Bar generally only likes to give that out to lawyers that represents banks or corporations {chuckling in background} so a little bit different that year.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Not to surprising that usual scenario.

Jeff Blackburn: I call that real criminal defense work. Representing a bank, you know.

Dean Becker: {chucking} Yeah.

Jeff Blackburn: I just represent poor people.

Dean Becker: Right. Now, Antonio Maria Costa would, I think, agree with you, certainly by this story that they issued today. Jeff, you were talking about, ‘people need to step back and look at it.’ People need to realize that no one else, I won’t say ‘no one else‘, not enough people are doing this work. I think, as you said, the majority or at least near majority, see every aspect of the drug war as a failure.

Jeff Blackburn: Well, that’s part of the problem though. When you get to a point where most people agree with you, then they don’t feel like it’s necessary to do anything because they just assume it’s going to change.

Dean Becker: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff Blackburn: In that sense… I got to tell you this so-called bad news that’s ahead, might actually turn out to be good because; as these governments shrink and contract; believe me, they are going to try to ring everything they can out of people, using the failed policy of the drug war, to their advantage.

I expect that we will see more seizures. We will see more confiscation of assets. We will see more attempts to pull over all kinds of people and try to make things stick against them, even with very small amounts say, of marijuana. The drug war is going to notch it down, because that’s were the money is.

Dean Becker: Yeah. That’s were all the “criminals” are. Because there’s so many people do, in fact, use these drugs.

Jeff Blackburn: I expect it will be very interesting. It will be what, I mean; I think there’s probably a solid majority in this country, of people that either have used, do use or believe in the use of, marijuana. The problem is, that with that group, most of these folks have jobs, they might be retired, they have some kind of an income; we’re not talking about street users of crack, for example. It’s a whole different group.

Dean Becker: Right.

Jeff Blackburn: So far, they have been relatively insulated from this kind of ratcheted up law enforcement. But I think that’s going to come to an end because, look; it’s like Willie Sutton, the famous bank robber said when he was asked, ’Why do you keep robbing banks?’ and his answer was, ’Well, that’s were the money is.’

Dean Becker: Yep.

Jeff Blackburn: Well, government knows where the money is. The money is not going to be with poor guys out on the street. The money’s going to be with people who have something to lose. People who have something that they can coerce them out of and I think that what we’re going to see is a renewed, on the way down, I think we’re going to see spasms everywhere of this really, really testosterone driven law enforcement, on more minor stuff.

Dean Becker: You know Jeff, yesterday I was talking about this and I kind of want to bring it up. If you look at the, at least the past three presidents, and probably many before them, but Clinton, Bush and Obama admitted freely, he used marijuana, he used cocaine. Yet he went on to succeed; to prosper; decide it was no longer for him and leave it behind. Now, he was never arrested. He was never sentenced to prison, never stigmatized. It seems absurd that so many others are denied the possibility for advancement, because they did that same…drug.

Jeff Blackburn: Yeah, but you know, I’ve got to tell you. I have another prediction and I’m willing to make it on this show and go public with it, ok? I’ve been thinking it for awhile. I’m going to predict, that marijuana becomes a, at least through it’s medical application, becomes legalized through federal law, before the end of Obama’s first term.

Dean Becker: Let’s hope you’re right.

Jeff Blackburn: I really believe that and it’s not because law makers are responsive or good, ’cause they’re clearly not. But it is because they’re opportunists, which they clearly are and he’s going to want to get re-elected and I think that he’s going to make a move that will reduce health care costs, please a very large number of people and thereby ensure his continuing popularity, enough so that he will probably manage to get elected.

All of the preliminary work, the radio shows, the efforts that you’ve devoted your whole life to, Dean and you and a lot of other folks. The cases that we’ve done. The stuff that looks so difficult to do and felt like you could never win, because believe me, this Tulia had some plenty of dark days in it like that. I think that all of those times and all of those people are going to find themselves being rewarded with a seachange in government policy and I think it’s going to happen soon.

Dean Becker: This program was edited out of a pledge drive show so I hope you’ll excuse the interruption but here’s a closing thought from Jeff Blackburn.

Jeff Blackburn: We have a website that we would love for you to come see. It’s called, www.ipoftexas.org

Dean Becker: We’ll have the rest of this discussion with Jeff Blackburn on next weeks 420’s.

Participate, become part of the solution to this problem. Working together we can make this a better nation. Certainly a better community and as always I remind you, that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

And as always, I remind you that, because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag and I urge you to please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Submitted by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org