Opening Doors to a Stronger and Healthier South Asian Community
Raksha Concerned by Operation Meth Merchant’s Impact on Community
Raksha is concerned that the sting operation called Operation Meth Merchant enforced by Georgia’s law enforcement in conjunction with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) selectively targeted Indian convenience storeowners and clerks in North West Georgia. The operation, directed at 24 stores, resulted in criminal charges against 48 individuals. Forty-six of those arrested are of Indian descent, and all but one of the stores targeted is Indian-owned.
Operation Meth Merchant targeted owners and employees of convenience stores who were believed to be selling key ingredients for the making of methamphetamine, an illegal drug. These products included extremely common and generally harmless, convenience store products such as cooking fuel, matches, cold medicine, and charcoal.
“I’m disappointed in the way immigrants have been targeted and blamed for many of the social problems we have in Georgia. Our communities are being caught between political agendas that look for quick and easy solutions to social issues that are far more complex. These tactics leave us paralyzed and disempowered. This seems really unfair and biased,” says Aparna Bhattacharyya, Executive Director of Raksha.
From our conversation with community members, those affected by this operation, and local Northwest Georgia South Asian residents, Raksha is extremely concerned that both the investigation and resulting charges in this incident were based on questionable tactics including the use of a confidential informant with a history of fraud convictions. In addition, about a dozen, mostly white American, English-speaking informants who were convicted for the manufacture, sale and/or consumption of Meth were promised reductions in their prison sentences if they could make cases against storeowners that could be “successfully” prosecuted. These informants in turn found those most vulnerable in these situations – members of the South Asian immigrant community with limited access to legal or social support, limited English language skills, and a recent history of experiencing post 9/11 anti-immigrant sentiment. It is highly unlikely that storeowners and clerks with limited English proficiency could understand the slang terms informants used to indicate that the purchased products were for manufacturing an illicit drug, e.g. the use of the word “cook” as slang for making the drug.
Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT), a national non-profit advocacy organization, noted, “The U.S.’s drug policies and enforcement have often had a devastating impact on communities of color whose voices and political power are marginalized. We are concerned that with Operation Meth Merchant in Georgia, South Asian community members have become the new targets in our country’s War on Drugs.”
Indeed, the real-life consequences of this operation on our community in Georgia are clear. Now facing up to 25 years in prison as well as heavy fines, those charged also face the threat of deportation, whether they are guilty or not. Raksha is concerned about the real consequences of deportation – abandoned families, fragmented community ties, isolation, extreme economic hardship for those left behind, women and children with limited access to resources, and loss of security built here in the US. The spouses, children, and other relatives of those charged may also experience escalating ostracism and discrimination from neighbors, schools, and community. This may make them vulnerable to other forms of victimization
Based on our conversations with our constituency, including those charged, we are calling on community members to learn more about this issue and take a stand against this injustice. We are also calling on national organizations to devote resources to investigating the possibility of challenging the selective prosecution of the Indian community in these cases. In collaboration with local and national community and advocacy organizations and organizers, we will respond to family needs in this time of crisis and also support initiatives that provide accurate and empowering education to affected communities.
Raksha is a Georgia-based nonprofit organization for the South Asian Community. Raksha's mission is to promote a stronger and healthier South Asian community through confidential support services, education, and advocacy.
South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the full and equal participation by South Asians in the civic and political life of the United States.