The Texas Observer's March 24 issue has an article by Tulia-author Nate Blakeslee on this stunning denouement entitled "End of an Era: The clock runs out on the state's infamous regional drug task forces." He quotes me pretty extensively and even cites Grits' role, calling it, "a clearinghouse for stories of task force malfeasance that Henson culled from small town newspapers and a variety of sources he had cultivated around the state, some of them in law enforcement. 'Grits' quickly became one of the most popular sites for criminal justice reform advocates, not just in Texas, but also in Washington, D.C.." That's a nice plug.
Nate gives me and ACLU of Texas executive director Will Harrell a lot of credit for the task forces' demise - especially for two ACLUTX public policy reports I authored, Too Far Off Task (2002) and Flawed Enforcement (2004) that exposed systemic task force flaws. But the truth is that hundreds of people from maybe a dozen or more different organzations were involved in the movement to end the drug task force system in Texas, which grew out of the organizing and research done in response to the Tulia episode.
At different points in time civil rights groups like NAACP and LULAC chipped in, as did the National Taxpayers Union, the Heritage Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance in D.C.. Local groups like Tulia Friends of Justice played pivotal roles, along with national columnists like Arianna Huffington and Bob Herbert. My friends at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition played a huge unsung role. Perhaps most of all, one cannot overstate the important role played by House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Terry Keel and his predecessor, now-Senator Juan Hinojosa: Both men saw the task forces' flawed structure and insisted on fixing it, coming back to the topic year after year.
In the end, few thought this outcome was possible. Closing Texas' task forces sends a powerful message: 'Drug war corruption won't be tolerated and if it can't be controlled, we'll shut you down.' In that sense it's a huge win, which is why I told the Observer:
"I consider getting rid of the task forces the political equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing to the right-field fence [before his famous home run]," he said. "We completely changed the way people think about drug enforcement in this state. We said all task forces need to go away, and in just a few years, they're all gone. You don't get many victories that look like that."See Grits' full drug task force coverage.