Documentary Re-Examines Controversial Hmong Shooting
JACKI LYDEN, Host:
Vang was refused a change of venue for his trial. One Hmong community activist saw the ensuing trial and media coverage like this.
LYDEN: Well, I felt this was an example of the equivalent of, sort of like an O.J. trial in our community. And that depending on your ethnic makeup and your background, your ethnic experience, racial experiences - it gave you a very different picture of the judicial system.
LYDEN: With us today are the film's co-directors and producers of "Open Season," Lu Lippold and Mark Tang. And they join me now from the Twin Cities. Welcome to both of you.
LU LIPPOLD: Thank you.
MARK TANG: Thank you.
LYDEN: Lu Lippold, will you tell us what happened in November of 2004?
LIPPOLD: Apparently what happened then is the other property owner, Bob Crotteau and some of the rest of their hunting party decided that they were going to teach this guy a lesson. They were sick of trespassers and as some have said, they were sick of Asian trespassers in particular, because there have been other incidents of Hmong trespassing on people's private lands up there.
LYDEN: Mark Tang, you're a Chinese-American filmmaker from the Twin Cities. What made this story something you want to explore?
TANG: So I was really interested in looking at the impact on not only the Hmong- American community, but as a whole on the larger community. And hopefully create some understanding, you know, of all the issues that bubble up, you know, after the incident happened.
LYDEN: Pretty quickly, the Hmong community felt that it was itself on trial and that didn't help really shed light on the incident. You interviewed Tou Ger Xiong who says this about how the community feels.
TOU GER XIONG: This is the first time the Hmong community is being introduced to all corners of the country and here we are, the first Hmong guy they see on TV is in a red jumpsuit and on trial for six counts of murder, you know. So what does this say to our community? What kind of picture does this paint about the Hmong-American community?
LYDEN: But, Lu, six people were dead and charges were filed. I mean, what was going on in the Anglo hunting community?
LIPPOLD: Well, in the Rice Lake community in particular and in the rural white community, there was a lot of defensiveness about racism because they felt that the world was coming down on them, as look at - see these racist white hicks are tormenting this Asian guy and, you know, this is what happens. So they didn't feel like their community was being characterized very favorably either.
LYDEN: Let's listen to what Chai Vang, who went on trial, would later be convicted said. Here you have a Hmong hunter, he is carrying a weapon, alleging that he's been harassed, fearing for his life. Be warned this language in this section, even though we've censored some of it, isn't necessarily meant for all ages. Let's listen to what he said on the stand that the white hunter said to him.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OPEN SEASON")
CHAI VALE: Do you know you are trespassing 400 acres of land, you damn (beep). You (beep) Asians keep coming to my land, I'm going to kick your (beep) Asian (beep).
LYDEN: Mark Tang, the jury was all white. How do you think that fact played out in the jury room and the way the testimony was presented?
TANG: I think one of the best kind of explanations or defensive kind of answer to that by actually the defendant's lawyers that had there been a jury from a diverse population, the verdict could have been different.
LYDEN: He was eventually convicted of first degree murder six times and attempted murder twice. Lu Lippold, watching this, your documentary does leave open exactly what happened in terms of who fired that first shot because it was never established who did, correct?
LYDEN: Why was that?
LIPPOLD: There were forensics and firearms experts at the trial, but there was no testimony as to who fired first.
LYDEN: And the defendant, Chai Vang, keeps saying, I felt threatened, I felt like they were going to kill me. But he also is questioned by the prosecutor who says, Mr. Vang, do you think these people deserved to die? And in two cases he says yes. Was he represented well, Lu?
LIPPOLD: And, also, the sort of wasted opportunity to bring up these cultural issues that had to do with the bullying of the Hmong who trespass and the fact that Hmong do trespass, and the fact that white hunters and Hmong hunters have a lot in common. And none of these issues were raised in the trial at all by these attorneys. So I think that's part of the frustration on the part of the Hmong community.
LYDEN: Have you had different reactions amongst Asian audiences and white audiences, or film viewers, I should say?
LIPPOLD: But there is a little bit of resentment about, now we are tainting Chai Vang to some degree with the information that comes out about him in the documentary.
LYDEN: And have there been any efforts for the two communities to heal this breach in any way?
TANG: So there were some initial moves, but basically, as a filmmaker's observation is that a lot of things bubble up from this violent incident, but there has not been any effort on both communities to reach out across the aisle to talk to each other, other than beyond saying, oh, we're going to need to educate more Hmong hunters to make sure they know how to read the signs.
LYDEN: But this is about a lot more than simply trespassing, obviously. Well, perhaps your film will be that opportunity.
LIPPOLD: That's what we hope.
LYDEN: Lu Lippold and Mark Tang are the co-directors and producers of the new documentary "Open Season" about a Hmong immigrant who shot and killed six people during a hunting trip in northern Wisconsin. They joined us from Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Thank you so much and good luck with your film.
LIPPOLD: Thank you.
TANG: Thank you.
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