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NORCROSS, Ga. -- Georgia's State Attorney General Thurbert Baker urged a new organization of Indian-American convenience store owners to take their concerns about racial profiling and gas station drive-offs to the authorities who can help them most, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
"Create the kind of dialogue we have had here tonight," Baker said Thursday.
Baker, a Democrat, met with members of the newly formed Asian American Convenience Stores Association in the first event sponsored by the 200-member group, which opened its headquarters last week in Decatur, Ga. The association is largely Indian-American, but hopes to attract members of other Asian ethnic groups.
Store owners in North Georgia formed the association weeks after federal agents arrested 49 people -- 44 of them Indian and Indian-American -- for selling materials used to make methamphetamine in June. Many in the region's Indian community felt they were unfairly targeted and say the episode has exposed language and cultural barriers separating the merchants and authorities. Officials in the U.S. Attorney's Office have said those arrested knew very well that they were selling cold medicine, camping fuel and antifreeze to people who had declared their intent to make meth.
Upendra Patel, the association's president, urged fellow members to educate themselves about Georgia's laws and customs. But he also told them to stand up together if they believe their rights are being trampled.
"If we feel anyone is breeching our rights, we will rise up," Patel said.
Baker also implored the convenience store owners to meet with the officials in the U.S. Attorney's Office if they believe they're being racially profiled. And when asked about the increasing number of gas station customers who fuel up without paying, Baker pointed the merchants toward their local police departments and district attorneys. The attorney general said he'd do his part as well.