Several hundred people rallied yesterday in Decatur, Ga., against the federal prosecution of “Operation Meth Merchant.” The Associated Press says the protesters called drug charges against dozens of South Asian convenience store owners racially biased. Last June 49 people and 16 corporations, most in northwest Georgia, were charged with supplying everyday items — from antifreeze to cold medicine — to informants who said they were using the products to make methamphetamine. Some 44 of the 49 convenience store clerks and owners charged in the sting were Indian, and many shared the same last name, Patel.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other backers of those charged say that several defendants were not even in the U.S. at the time they are accused of illegally selling the ingredients and that informants used obscure drug slang, which the clerks, some of whom speak limited English, did not understand. “We are not coming from a criminal background,” said Upendra Patel, president of Georgia’s Asian-American Convenience Store Association. “We have thousands of years of culture and civilization, and we do not know what this drug is about. Putting some innocent people behind bars is not going to solve the drug problem.”