The Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Members of the Hmong community are seeking answers following a recent raid on a St. Paul marketplace that resulted in the confiscation of hundreds of pounds of prescription drugs and painkillers.
Many Hmong vendors said they’re not sure what they did wrong, and they’re worried that Minnesotans will think Hmongtown Marketplace is unsafe, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
“It was a very scary experience for us,” vendor Kia Lee said of last month’s raid. “It gave me the impression — the way the raid was carried out — it gave me the impression that someone had killed someone. It was of that level of a crisis.”
The raid was conducted by Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies, St. Paul police officers, and federal agents.
Authorities said they’d received reports of drugs sold at the market being tied to poisonings and a suicide, and undercover officers were able to buy drugs in plastic bags. One officer saw a customer getting intravenous treatment behind a curtain.
Randy Gustafson, a spokesman for the Ramsey County sheriff’s office, said the vendors were putting their customers’ lives at risk. He said officials warned sellers that they were selling items they shouldn’t be.
“We’d like to see this stop — and it would be best to see it stop on their own,” Gustafson said. “Nobody wants to put people in jail for things they’re ‘confused’ about, even though they’ve been told that it’s not the way to do that.”
Drug sales in the U.S. are highly regulated. Even selling individual tablets of over-the-counter medication is a misdemeanor without proper labeling, said St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing. Her office is one of several agencies that could bring charges against the sellers at the market.
Grewing said investigators are still working to identify the confiscated substances.
Several vendors said they didn’t understand what prompted such a large-scale raid. They said they were selling products safely based on generations of handed-down knowledge.
“What I know is the products came to me with instructions or info in Thai,” said Yer Lee Chang, who has sold medication for stomach pain and headaches for seven years. “We just go based off of what is in those documents and our knowledge from living in Thailand, what these meds are for.”
Chang’s comments were translated by Sia Her, the executive director of the state Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans. Her said many Hmong may come to the market for basic health care because they don’t have insurance, and others come because of tradition.
Her acknowledged that many Hmong were adhering to practices they learned in Laos and Thailand, and said they need to adapt to American rules.
“Maybe we think this is appropriate but it isn’t allowed by law here in this country,” she said. “And this is home now.” (end)