Hmong Hunger Strikers

Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

The Asian American community reached a new flashpoint in possible bias-motivated crime as Hmong farmer Soobleej Hawj was fatally shot by police in Siskiyou County. Siskiyou County law enforcement have released no information about the incident, and failed to release Mr. Hawj’s name until last week. Community activist Zurg Xiong, on the 18th day of a hunger strike, says he is prepared to die to obtain justice for his community.

On July 24 night, Zurg posted a Facebook notice that he was ending the hunger strike following a conversation with officials in the state AG’s office. We are relieved to learn, after 19 days of not eating, that Zurg Xiong is ending the strike.

Hmong Hunger Striker
Hmong Hunger Strike Activist

Speakers at the news briefing on July 23, discussed the deep divide between the Hmong community and other residents in Siskiyou County; law enforcement bias against the community, especially relating to water transportation; and attempts to get the Justice Department to investigate the shooting.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office initially withheld information about the June 28 shooting, and did not release Hawj’s name until July 14. It has not released any further information about the incident, including information about what prompted officers to shoot at Hawj at least 24 times. The shooting occurred at an evacuation point during the Lava Fire in the Mount Shasta/Vista area, home primarily to Hmong farmers

Speaking at the briefing, Assemblyman David Chiu also called for an independent investigation. “I believe that an independent investigation into how and why this death occurred is wholly appropriate. A human being lost his life and we all deserve to know why.”

Zurg Xiong, 33, says he had no other choice but to go on a hunger strike. “My health physically is deteriorating,” he said. I’m giving a voice because we’ve been denied a voice,” Zurg Xiong said. “Because we are the ones who speak the truth.  We lost a brother,” Xiong said. He said the sheriff’s office began aggressively enforcing ordinances to prohibit water trucks from delivering to specific grow sites in neighborhoods primarily populated by Hmong people.

Councilwoman Mai Vang noted a history of racism in the region and stated that the police shooting was a murder. Our communities know too well how the system continues to be stacked against minorities, against Hmong and Asian American communities,” said Vang.