Sunday, November 28, 2004

Small updates on shooting incident

I see people are still coming here for news about last weekend's shooting incident near my home town where six hunters were killed and two wounded. I was up there for Thanksgiving, but didn't hear any new news. I'd wondered about the rumor I'd heard that this wasn't the first time Vang had trespassed on that same property. My family had heard that rumor, too, but no confirmation. I did hear that it was just within the last couple of years that large groups of Hmong started hunting on public land in that area, and that may have caused some tensions with hunters who'd been hunting those lands for many years. In that context, it's entirely possible that the group of hunters who were gunned down last Sunday may have previously encountered Hmong hunters on their land. And given that, it's even possible that they may have encountered Chai Vang in particular.

But I fear some may want to exaggerate the issue of racial tensions between the Hmong and the white populations of the upper midwest.
In the St. Paul neighborhood known as Frog Town, where many Hmong people live and run businesses, a few people voiced fear that the killings would somehow tarnish their image in the eyes of others. But Cheu Lee, part owner of the Hmong Times newspaper, says most Hmong are convinced that whites will understand simply that Vang is "a bad apple."

. . .

Out in the woods or fields, there has always been the occasional disagreement between hunters. It's no secret some whites grouse that Hmong hunters are poachers, and some of the Hmong consider the whites bigots. But Tom Jordan, a hunter from Milwaukee, says the love of hunting typically transcends cultural differences. "For sportsmen," he says, "there's a fellowship, a kinship."

It was the bountiful hunting of the Northwoods, in part, that drew so many of the Southeast Asian immigrants to the area, says Xiung. "We're an agricultural people," he says. "We're just like our neighbors up here. We like to go out and enjoy the wilderness and hunt."

While I'm sure such tension does exist in places, I don't believe it's at all widespread. There are plenty of Hmong people where I live, and I've never seen anything to suggest there's a current of racial tension bubbling under the surface. But last week Joe Bee Xiong, the director of the Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association in Eau Claire (and recent candidate for State Assembly) suggested that Hmong hunters may want to skip the rest of the hunting season for fear of some sort of backlash. I have no idea how many took his advice.

The Hmong community has been very supportive of the victims' families, and has established a relief fund for them.

“As a community, our hearts go out to the families whose loved ones were wounded or killed during this horrible tragedy,” says Vue Chu, spokesman for the Hmong 18 Council, a Saint Paul non-profit organization made up of clan representatives from each of the 18 last names in the Hmong culture. “We want to show our community's support through the establishment of this fund and encourage Minnesota residents, and others across the U.S. to do the same.”

Individuals who would like to make a tax-exempt contribution to the “Hmong Community Support Fund for Wisconsin Hunting Victims and Survivors” may send their donations to:

Hmong Community Support Fund for Wisconsin Hunting Victims and Survivors
c/o University Bank
200 University Avenue West
Saint Paul, MN 55103

Four of the funerals were held this past weekend. I understand that one priest will be conducting five of the six funerals. While praying for the families, please remember also to pray for this priest. That's got to be a strain.

Chai Vang is expect to be charged tomorrow in the murders. He has hired three Milwaukee attorneys, and they are expected to address the media today (Sunday). I'll add more to this post if I hear anything new.

UPDATE: Here's a news report on the press conference with Vang's attorneys. Not much there, but the attorneys have had some high-profile cases.

Vang is being represented by a relatively high-profile legal team. Kohn, the lead attorney, represented Christopher Scarver, who pleaded guilty to killing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 1995.

Kohn's partner, Jonathan Smith, represented former Green Bay Packer Mark Chmura, who was acquitted in 2001 of sexually assaulting a teenager. James Mentkowski, Vang's third attorney, has represented Hmong clients and a Hmong community group in the past, he said.

UPDATE II: Jib posts a link to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story on the "cultural gap" between Hmong and white hunters, and then adds futher thoughts about how stronger ties between the two groups can strengthen the northwoods community.


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