Center for American Progress

: Racial Profiling and the War on Drugs:
Past Event

Racial Profiling and the War on Drugs:

The Impact of "Operation Meth Merchant" on Immigrant Communities in Georgia

12:00 AM - 11:59 PM EDT

Racial Profiling and the War on Drugs
The Impact of “Operation Meth Merchant” on Immigrant Communities in Georgia

Featured Speakers:
Dr. Rev. Joseph Lowery, President of the Georgia Coalition for a People’s Agenda and President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Deepali Gokhale , Organizer, Racial Justice Campaign Against “Operation Meth Merchant”
Vanita Gupta, Staff Attorney, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow

Moderated by:
Nicholas Rathod, Senior Manager of State and Regional Affairs, Center for American Progress

The “war on drugs” has been touted as a tool to combat violence, abuse and addiction associated with the sale and use of drugs. However, as witnessed in 1999 with the investigation and prosecution of 40 innocent African Americans in Tulia, TX, this “war” does not serve the public’s interest if it is administered in an inefficient and racially selective manner. In such circumstances, the war on drugs can marginalize communities of color, destroy trust in the justice system, weaken the position of law enforcement, undermine public safety, divert resources from what otherwise would be effective anti-drug strategies and perpetuate racist and culturally insensitive stereotypes.

Immigrant communities of South Asian descent in northwest Georgia are the latest victims of the misapplication in investigation and prosecution of the war on drugs. A new initiative called “Operation Meth Merchant” has led to the apprehension of 49 individuals — 44 of whom are South Asian — for the supposed deliberate sale of ingredients used to produce methamphetamine. However, similar to the matter in Tulia, TX (where innocent individuals were targeted based on race), evidence shows that the victims of the operation were specifically targeted based on ethnicity, immigration status and/or English proficiency.

Panelists will discuss the civil rights implications of the war on drugs, the impact of “Operation Meth Merchant” on immigrant communities in Georgia, cultural and linguistic obstacles within the criminal justice system and immigrant rights in a post-9/11 context.

Monday, May 15, 2006
Program: 12:30 P.M to 2:00 PM
Lunch will be served at 12:00 PM
Admission is free.

For more information, please call: (202) 741-6246



Note: All video provided in  QuickTime (MPEG-4)  format.


Dr. Reverend Joseph Lowery is considered the dean of the civil rights movement. Lowery began his work with civil rights in the early 1950s in Mobile, Alabama, where he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places. In 1957, Lowery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Lowery was named vice president. In 1965, he was named chairman of the delegation to take demands of the Selma to Montgomery March to Alabama’s governor at the time, George Wallace. Lowery is a co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of black advocacy groups. He has led peace delegations to the Middle East and Central America. In addition to serving as pastor to several churches over the years, Lowery has received numerous awards, including an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, the Martin Luther King Center Peace Award and the National Urban League’s Whitney M. Young, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. Ebony has twice named him as one of the Fifteen Greatest Black Preachers. Lowery has also received several honorary doctorates from colleges and universities including, Dillard University, Morehouse College, Alabama State University and the University of Alabama.

Deepali Gokhale emigrated from India in 1973 with her family, and attended schools and college in Virginia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1992. Her experiences as an immigrant child in semi-rural Virginia shaped her outlook towards social justice and activism. When she moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1995 to attend the Portfolio Center for Graphic Design, Ms. Gokhale began volunteering with Raksha, a Georgia-based non-profit organization that serves the South Asian community. In 1999, she started her own software consulting business. From 2000 to 2004, she and three other volunteers hosted “Masala Chai Houses”, a series of discussions about the myth of the model minority and how it affects race relations between South Asian Americans and other American communities, as well as the South Asian community’s relationship to itself. Ms. Gokhale’s social justice life blossomed from there. In 2004, she became the steering committee co-chair and campaign staff member of Georgians Against Discrimination, a coalition of progressive organizations formed to defeat a state constitutional amendment defining marriage. She received the 2004 Human Rights Guardian Award from the National Center for Human Rights Education as a result of her work. In October 2004, Ms. Gokhale founded Queer Progressive Agenda, an ongoing queer-led conversation dedicated to addressing the intersection of oppressions and building a progressive grassroots power base in the service of liberation. In 2005, she was presented with the Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi Community Change award from Raksha. Ms. Gokhale currently serves on the board of Southerners On New Ground, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to build movement across the South for progressive social change by developing models for organizing that connect race, class, culture, gender and sexual identity. She is also the Campaign Organizer for the Racial Justice Campaign Against “Operation Meth Merchant”, a coalition of organizations that converged to protest the racially biased sting operation in northwest Georgia called “Operation Meth Merchant.”
Vanita Gupta joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) as a Soros Justice Fellow in September 2001. She is now an Assistant Counsel at LDF, where her work centers on civil rights litigation that promotes systemic reform of the criminal justice system. Ms. Gupta successfully led the effort to overturn the convictions of 38 defendants in Tulia, Texas, organizing over a dozen national law firms in this fight and coordinating the legal and media strategy. With co-counsel, she also settled the civil rights cases filed on behalf of the wrongfully convicted Tulia residents for $6 million. In furtherance of her clients’ cases, she has appeared on numerous national television and radio shows, and has been quoted extensively in international and national print media. She has been profiled in The New York Times “Public Lives” section and in The New York Law Journal. For her work in Tulia, Ms. Gupta has been given numerous awards, including the Reebok Human Rights Award (2004) and the American Red Cross “Rising Star” Award (2003). Ms. Gupta received her law degree from New York University School of Law, where she served as the Colloquium Editor of the Review of Law and Social Change and was awarded a Vanderbilt Medal for Public Service and the Anne Petluck Poses Prize for her death penalty and juvenile rights-based clinical work. She attended Yale University, where she graduated magna cum laude in History and Women’s Studies.

Deepa Iyer is the Executive Director of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, 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. Ms. Iyer has had over seven years of experience in civil rights and immigrant rights advocacy. She began her public interest career at the Asian American Justice Center (formerly the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium), where she managed the Census 2000, Language Rights, and Voting Rights programs. She then served as Trial Attorney at the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, where she represented individuals suffering from workplace discrimination due to their immigration status or national origin, and assisted with the Division’s efforts to address backlash discrimination in the wake of September 11th. Ms. Iyer most recently served as the Legal Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, where she institutionalized a multilingual legal referral hotline and organized a pan-ethnic coalition that successfully advocated for linguistic access to government services and benefits in the District of Columbia.

Nicholas Rathod is the Senior Manager of State and Regional Affairs at the Center for American Progress. Mr. Rathod has significant experience working on both the local and national level. On the local level, Mr. Rathod began working in his home state of Nebraska’s state legislature for former state Senator Daniel Fisher focusing on agricultural and environmental issues. He also has worked with the District of Columbia City Council and Mayor’s Office on local legislation relating to language access, fair housing and the Chicago City Council on legislation relating to the Patriot Act. On the national level he has worked with the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) to develop guidelines for TSA employees searching individuals who wear articles of faith on airlines and regularly briefs Congressional members on civil rights issues affecting the Asian Pacific American Community. As an attorney Mr. Rathod successfully litigated matters relating to discrimination in lending claims on behalf of African American, Native American, Muslim, and Latino communities. He also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT), for the organization Mr. Rathod has organized and lead multi-ethnic and faith-based coalitions advocating for broader hate crimes legislation, against the “Special Registration” program, roll back of provisions of the Patriot Act and organized an Asian American voter protection and data collection campaign for the 2004 presidential election. He also has focused on civil rights education and leadership initiatives for the South Asian community. Mr. Rathod has been cited in various media, was a speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, is the recipient of the Frederick B. Abramson award for lawyering in the public interest and the 2005 National South Asian Bar Association’s national public interest attorney of the year.