Sunday, January 14, 2007

Killing Stirs Racial Concerns in North Woods of Wisconsin


MILWAUKEE, Jan. 8 — Law enforcement officials said Monday that a Hmong hunter found dead Saturday in northern Wisconsin had been murdered after an “accidental meeting” between the victim and another small game hunter.

The killing has reignited racial tension in Wisconsin’s northern woods, where two years ago a Hmong hunter killed six white hunters and injured two others in a confrontation that included racial epithets.

Details remain sketchy about the latest killing, although there have been news reports that the two men had a confrontation.

“While there is much I would like to tell you, there is much I cannot tell you,” Sheriff James Kanikula said at a news conference Monday in Marinette, Wis., The Associated Press reported.

The finding that the death of the Hmong hunter, Cha Vang, 30, had been intentional was based on an autopsy. The case has been turned over to Wisconsin’s newly elected attorney general, J. B. Van Hollen.

The other hunter, James Nichols, 28, of Peshtigo, Wis., is being detained, but has not been charged in the killing. Mr. Nichols is being held on charges of violating parole and being a felon in possession of a firearm. A convicted burglar, he has been in custody since Saturday, when he showed up at a medical center with a gunshot wound.

Many members of the Hmong community here are urging caution.

“There are a lot of rumors, and there is a lot of talking, but I don’t have all the information at this point,” Yia Thao, president of the United Hmong Community Center in Green Bay, said in a telephone interview. “I believe in the law, and I hope that whoever caused the crime, I hope they will be put into justice.”

The body of Mr. Vang, a father of five children age 3 to 10, was found partly concealed Saturday in the Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area. The hunting spot is an hour’s drive north of Green Bay, where Mr. Vang lived, and about 250 miles north of Chicago.

He had been hunting small game with friends on Friday, and they reported him as missing when he did not show up at day’s end. A search, which included tracking dogs, took place. The authorities did not find Mr. Vang’s body until after questioning Mr. Nichols.

Hunting is deeply ingrained in both the Hmong and Wisconsin northern woods cultures. Distrust among the Hmong and other residents has been high since Chai Soua Vang of St. Paul killed six hunters and wounded two others in 2004 in north-central Wisconsin. The hunters had ordered Chai Soua Vang off private land. Mr. Vang is serving a life sentence.

About 40,000 Hmong live in Wisconsin, which has the third-highest Hmong population in the United States, after California and Minnesota. Roughly 6,000 live in the Green Bay area. The Hmong, who are from the mountain regions of Laos, were granted refugee status after the end of the Vietnam War.

Cha Vang was among the final wave of Hmong refugees from Thailand and emigrated to Wisconsin two years ago. He spoke little or no English and had recently been laid off from a manufacturing job, said Mr. Thao, of the Hmong community center.

After the killings two years ago, many Hmong felt nervous about hunting. “Everybody was worried,” said Zongsae Vang, a community organizer with the Hmong American Friendship Association in Milwaukee, where most of the state’s Hmong population lives.

Pang Vue Vang, Cha Vang’s wife, does not speak English and she and the children are having difficulty coping with all that is happening, Mr. Thao said. “I see the wife crying all day, and the little one is asking for their dad,” he said.

Source: NYTimes

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