Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The Dream of Poor Bazin

Jerry Stratton

What if the Three Musketeers were journalists in Washington, DC? What if journalists were swashbuckling, swaggering, hard-drinking warriors of truth? Find out in Jerry Stratton’s The Dream of Poor Bazin.

Georgia drug war unfairly targets Indian immigrants

Jerry Stratton, January 13, 2006

In northwest George, 75% of convenience stores are run by whites, but they’ve been facing increasing competition from immigrants. The solution they’ve found is the same solution the United States governments have used since the mid-1800s: target the immigrants for drug trafficking.

In this case, the “drug trafficking” involved nothing more than selling perfectly legal items such as cold medicines, matches, and anti-freeze. Informants would, while purchasing the items, say things such as “I need this to finish a cook”.

Federal prosecutors are arguing that having heard this, the clerks and store owners were aware that these legal products were going to be used for an illegal purpose. This makes them guilty of “federal drug law violations punishable by up to 25 years in prison.”

The problem with this justification is that, not only do the accused sometimes not understand English very well, there’s no reason to expect that they understand drug slang either. Even the judges trying the cases had to have the slang explained to them:

Even the judges in the cases are having to have the meth-making slang explained to them, according to court documents, leading one defense attorney, McCracken Poston, to question why immigrants with limited English language abilities were supposed to know terminology sitting judges didn’t know. “They’re having to tell the court what that means,” Poston said. “But they’re assuming that the clerks know what it means. I think in most cases they had no idea,” he told the Associated Press last weekend.

“I have already watched people plead guilty to these charges, and they needed translators in court because they couldn’t understand what the judge was saying,” said Deepali Gokhale, campaign organizer for Raksha, a Georgia-based South Asian community association. “How are we to believe that they understood the coded slang of the undercover informant? Imagine you are in France, you barely know the language, or perhaps not at all, and someone comes up to you and starts talking in French drug slang. This is just bizarre,” she told DRCNet.

Further the interactions were not performed by law enforcement, but by informants--criminals hoping to get their time reduced, who were expected to “drop hints”. If their hints were vague enough so that the sale occurred, they were more likely to get time off than if they made it clear that they were about to do something illegal and the sale was refused.

You can’t get much more like entrapment than this without pointing a gun at someone. It’s crazy. But these kinds of laws against selling perfectly legal things just because you “should have known” are perfect vehicles for abuses of this sort. This is skinhead law enforcement; take advantage of an immigrant’s poor English skills and beat them down with complex, poorly-made laws.

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