Settlement hearing draws rally for Fong Lee's familyby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
A group of nearly 200, mostly Hmong people demonstrated in front of the U.S. courthouse in downtown St. Paul to rally support for the family of Fong Lee, who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis officer in 2006. Rally organizers say the demonstration shows that more Hmong are willing to take their message to the streets.
St. Paul, Minn. — At first look, the protest was like many others. Demonstrators carry signs and walk back in forth on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse.
But the chants are not immediately recognizable to those who don't speak Hmong.
"That means we want justice. That means we want justice in Hmong," translates organizer Tou Ger Xiong.
The rally coincided with the beginning of a settlement hearing in a wrongful death lawsuit against a Minneapolis police officer.
19-year-old Fong Lee died on July 22, 2006 after he was shot several times by Minneapolis officer Jason Andersen.
Police officials say Andersen and his partner, Trooper Craig Benz, saw Lee with a gun and chased him. They say Andersen shot Lee after the young man pointed the gun at him.
The police say the shooting was justified. Andersen was awarded a medal of valor and a grand jury investigation did not yield indictments against the officers.
Rally organizer Dai Thao says the case sparked anger in the Hmong community that those on the outside did not see.
"There's a quiet outrage," Thao explained. "There was a quiet distrust. Passive. This has been boiling up since 2006."
Family members of Fong Lee believe that he was unarmed and that officers planted a gun near his body to justify the shooting.
Police deny the allegation.
Some members of the Hmong community close ranks when faced with sensational events.
But Dai Thao says many Hmong have the same concerns as other minorities about getting fair treatment from police officers. He says his community is now learning to speak out and reach outside the group.
"We face a lot of racial injustice. Not just from the police department, but in the workplace and the community," Thao said. "We've learned a lot from the African American community and the civil rights movement."
Thao says younger Hmong are more likely to reach across community lines. That was evident as Hmong rapper Tou Seiko Lee (no relation to Fong), performed a protest poem.
"In the memory of injustice
In the memory of Fong Lee
In the memory of all victims of police brutality.
In the memory of a tragedy translated a travesty..."
Rally participants, not only came to be heard but make some demands.
They want Minneapolis officer Jason Andersen and police chief Tim Dolan to resign; they want Andersen's Medal of Valor revoked. The activists are calling for the city to create of a Hmong community ombudsman and they want an additional outside investigation into the shooting.
There's already an independent investigation underway. That's the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family.
The court-ordered settlement talks failed to produce an agreement.
The suit is scheduled to go to trial next week.
- All Things Considered, 05/11/2009, 5:47 p.m.