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About a hundred people gathered outside the St. Paul Police Department’s Western District office on Sunday to protest the police killing of 65-year-old Yia Xiong.
Last Saturday, St. Paul police officers responded to reports of a man threatening people with a knife in the Winslow Commons Apartments, where Xiong lived. Officers found Xiong in the building holding a knife, which he did not drop when police told him to. Body camera footage released last week shows officers firing their weapons and deploying a Taser.
According to Xiong’s family, he was hard of hearing and didn’t speak English. They believe the language barrier was the reason he didn’t comply with police commands. They said he would only understand people who were speaking loudly, in Hmong, very close to him.
Xiong’s spouse, See Xiong, addressed protesters. She spoke in Hmong, with protest organizer Xhokeezheng Yang translating into English.
“I am saddened today,” Xiong said. “My children will not have a father. I myself will not have a husband, and we are living at the darkest time at this point.”
Xiong said her husband lost his hearing fighting in the U.S. “Secret War” in Laos. Hmong soldiers fought for the United States during the Vietnam War, which spilled into neighboring Laos.
State Senator Susan Pha, DFL-Brooklyn Park, was among those who attended the protest. She said that the police department needs to revisit how its officers are trained–and especially how they respond to conflict.
“This was such a tragic incident that could’ve been prevented,” Pha said. “There were plenty of opportunities for de-escalation of the situation that could’ve led to a different outcome.”
Protesters also demanded that the officers involved lose their jobs.
Speakers tied the shooting back to past violent incidents involving the St. Paul Police Department. Protesters echoed chants commonly heard at Black Lives Matter protests, chanting, “I’m deaf, don’t shoot,” and, “No justice, no peace.”
Several held signs that read “Hmong lives matter,” which they carried in a march that cycled up and down the block in front of the police building.
Toshira Garraway Allen is the founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence. She said that her organization has several Hmong members who have lost family members to police violence.
“Why do Hmong lives and Black lives and other lives that look like me and you continue to not leave out of these situations alive?” Garraway said.
After the protest, family members and supporters headed to Winslow Commons Apartments for a vigil in Xiong’s memory. Organizers said they’re planning more protests and community gatherings.