The Hmong in America - A Tribute from JeffLindsay.com

Do Minority Hunters in America
Need to Hire Lawyers First?

The Challenge of Being Hmong:
How a Gentle Hunter Got Arrested

The Story of Toua Lor, a Hmong Hunter in Wisconsin
October 11, 2006, by Jeff Lindsay

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When a naturalized US citizen from Asia went squirrel hunting on a beautiful fall day in Wisconsin, he had no idea that he would soon need a lawyer. Perhaps several lawyers. While he was napping in his home later that day, he had no idea that the police were hunting for him on the basis of one white man's allegations about pointing a gun at him. He had no idea that a huge SWAT team was moving into his neighborhood and frightening the neighbors, as if they were dealing with some kind of apocalyptic mass murderer ready to start shooting it up with the police. When the police showed up and an officer began questioning him about an alleged incident of gun pointing in the woods where he was hunting, he had no idea that he needed a lawyer, that he had the right to a lawyer, and that he shouldn't say a thing without a lawyer present - or a translator. He had no idea that his words would be used against him without the benefit of a lawyer and a translator to help him understand the questions and their significance. He had no idea that he would be arrested and asked to post an unusually high bail "because he is Hmong." And he had no idea that he would soon be facing felony charges that could result in thirteen years in jail. This family man, a loyal US citizen, a hard worker and devout Christian, would soon be painted by the media as if he were of the same ilk as a Hmong murdered who massacred six hunters two years ago. All because of a run in with an upset white man in the woods. On Sept. 23, 2006, a mild-mannered man, Toua Lor, would desperately need a lawyer for the battle of his life.

Chuetoua "Toua" Lor is a Hmong man from Appleton, Wisconsin who was arrested on Sept. 23, 2006 for allegedly pointing a gun at a man who wanted the Hmong hunter off the land. Off "his" land, the "landowner's" land, we have been led to believe by the media, though that is inaccurate. "Peaceful landowner victimized by dangerous Hmong immigrants with guns" could almost have been the headlines for the story when it broke. In fact, the media have painted the incident as being related to the Chai Vang massacre of nearly two years ago. In doing so, the media have stirred racial tensions between the Hmong and white communities, created unnecessary fear and anger, injured the good name of Toua Lor, and done a terrible disservice to the community.

The media has also shown genuine lack of responsibility in reporting the full story. For one thing, most people haven't heard one of the most interesting facts in the story: the land that Toua was hunting on when the "landowner" was supposedly threatened wasn't the "landowner's" land, but was corporate land where hunting was perfectly legal. (It's often viewed as "public" land even though it, or at least the trees on it, are owned by a corporation.) So why was the man accosting Toua in the woods? That's something the press has completely ignored, but it's a key issue for the rights of Hmong hunters who strive to respect and follow the law. There are factors here that all of us need to think about to enhance understanding between the races and various groups in this nation.

I know Toua Lor, and many other people in the community know him. He has worked with whites and Hmong and others to build up our community and to serve others. He is a US citizen and a man known for his gentle nature. He does not lose his temper. He would never physically threaten someone unless it were in pure self-defense. But he's been arrested and charged with a felony, has had to hire a lawyer, and could be put in jail for 13 years. A white man approached him while hunting, started a verbal dispute, accused him of lying, told him to get off the land even though he had permission to hunt there, and then called the police to report that he had been threatened. Maybe it happened that way. But even if everything the accuser says is true and perfectly accurate, the fact is that nobody has been hurt. No shots were fired at the accuser or when the accuser was nearby. Yet the media is repeatedly comparing this case to one from two years ago when a Hmong deer hunter went crazy and killed six white people. The story is all about race, and the media has stirred up racial tensions in making such a big deal out of a minor incident.

The media has not told the full story. They have not tried to get the story, in my opinion. There was a press conference called by Toua's attorney, and only one media representative showed up and did little to convey their story.

The media has consistently brought up the image of the Chai Vang murders in dealing with this case (one example of many is the Green Bay Press Gazette's story of Sept. 27, 2006: "Hunter out on bail after dispute with landowner in Outagamie County." Here is an excerpt:

Lor allegedly pointed a .22-caliber rifle at a rural New London landowner who ordered him off his property Saturday while Lor was small-game hunting in the town of Liberty.

The case conjured up images of the shootings of eight hunters in 2004. . . .

In November 2004, a Hmong immigrant shot eight other hunters in Sawyer County while deer hunting after a similar confrontation. Six people were killed, including a Bellevue woman.

The shooter, Chai Vang, St. Paul, Minn, was convicted and sentenced to six life terms plus 165 years in prison.

The article makes it sound like the incident occurred on a landowner's property, and does not tell the important fact that the Hmong hunter was accosted by the white man while on land open to the public for hunting. The man was challenging Toua's right to be there. It's not hard to imagine that the Hmong man felt threatened and was trying to defend himself by waving the man away. If so, there are more general questions that can be considered. Does a Hmong hunter have no rights? Do minority hunters need lawyers if they wish to hunt on land open for hunting? Can any white man show up and drive them away? Can a white man make accusations, approach them, provoke some minor act of self-defense, and then get the Hmong man thrown in jail? Now in asking these questions, I do not mean to imply that Mr. van Dinter did anything wrong. He could have been acting in good faith with sincere concerns. But from the Hmong perspective, one can ask these questions, especially based on how the media has treated the case.

The media continues to state or imply that the incident took place on the land of the accuser, Stephen van Dinter. But according to Mr. van Dinter's report in a preliminary hearing, the alleged gun-pointing incident took place on land well away from his property. Mr. van Dinter's property is next to a large tract of land owned by Tigerton Corporation that is available for public hunting and has been hunted on by people for years, though van Dinter thinks people shouldn't hunt there now since homes are being built around the Tigerton property. But Toua's hunting was legal, at least as far as he knew, based on what I know of the story. He also says he had permission of a Charlie Weber to go through Charlie's property to gain access to the land.

Mr. van Dinter first approached Toua Lor when van Dinter thought he was on his property, near the border to the Tigerton land. Mr. van Dinter said that he told Toua to leave. Later, he heard another shot (Toua was hunting squirrels), and went back out to find Toua well outside of his property, on the corporate land where hunting is legal. However, according to his statement in a preliminary hearing, he may have had legitimate concerns about how close Toua was to the homes in the area. He accosted Toua and asked him why he was hunting there, how he got there, and accused him of lying. He then said that Toua pointed the gun at his legs. When he left, he called the police, and Toua was later arrested.

One can easily imagine that Mr. van Dinter was angry with Toua. He thought he was a liar, he thought he had trespassed on his property to get to the hunting land, and perhaps he was angry. So we may have a situation where a tall, strong angry white man comes toward a short Hmong guy and is accusing him of being a liar. Frankly, I can understand that. I might have been worried myself, and can imagine being upset in the situation. I don't want hunters shooting near where I live, even if it is just a .22 caliber rifle aimed at squirrels.

But is it possible the Hmong man felt threatened? After all, he was being accosted a second time, being accused of being a liar by someone who was much larger than him and may have been angry. Perhaps he did direct the gun toward the legs of the man to keep him back. Based on the preliminary hearing that I attended, there is no clear evidence that the gun could have been fired, that the bolt was in place to allow firing, or that the fingers of Toua were on the trigger. And the testimony of the accused does not say that the gun was pointed at his chest or head, only in the direction of his legs - and with a tiny .22 caliber rifle. Yet he is being charged with reckless endangerment, as if he was threatening to kill the man with "utter disregard of human life." There is a possibility that this was an arguably legitimate and restrained effort at self-defense, and a big misunderstanding. If so, what a shame that Toua's future now depends largely on the skills of a lawyer that he has had to hire.

If we consider that Toua Lor's English is not excellent and that he may not have understood all the questions van Dinter was throwing at him, we might see that Toua was not some kind of vile liar who was trespassing his land, but a gentle and respectful Hmong man who was squirrel hunting legally, with permission, without the slightest intent of ever hurting him or anyone else. Of course, it is possible that a genuine felony was committed. I don't know. We'll have to let the jury sort through the evidence and figure out what really happened in the woods. But there is a side of this story that is not being considered by the media, at least not so far.

Both of these men who met in the woods may have been acting in good faith. Both may have misunderstood what the other was doing. And I think the media has misunderstood what the story is really about.

This story is not about Chai Vang. It's not about a murder or shooting. It's about two citizens who may have had a big misunderstanding in the woods. It's about racial tensions and the misunderstandings that can occur between racial groups. We need to heal the wounds that have been reopened by the media and by people jumping to unfair conclusions. The "garbage" that needs to be stopped is not Hmong men hunting legally, but prejudice and bigotry. And cutting back on inaccurate or unfair reporting would also be appreciated. (For my initial perspective on how the media handled this case, see The 2006 Hmong Hunter Story: Local Media Stirs Racial Tensions in Wisconsin on the Appleton Blog.)

There is a story to be told here, a good man to be vindicated, and the flames of racism to be quenched. May there be healing in our community. And may fewer lawyers be needed by minority hunters.


Cracked Planet of Jeff Lindsay Jeff Lindsay's planet

My revised letter-to-the-editor about Toua Lor at the Appleton Blog

The 2006 Hmong Hunter Story: Local Media Stirs Racial Tensions in Wisconsin

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