Several community members who packed a St. Paul library Friday night in the wake of the police killing Yia Xiong called for more police accountability and training.
The meeting was dominated by Hmong community members who shared stories of their own encounters with police. Xiong, 65, was Hmong. Other families whose loved ones were killed by law enforcement also shared their grief.
“Do I look like a threat?” attendee Panu Yang shouted into a microphone at the forum.
“No!” the crowd of about 100 shouted back.
Yang said a police officer once stopped her vehicle while she was leaving a family reunion. Alone in her car, the officer asked her if she had been drinking and she responded that she was fine. She was asked to blow into a breathalyzer. The officer called for backup, and two more officers showed up.
Yang said watching police body camera footage of Xiong’s shooting reinforced her concerns about prejudice in policing.
“I wanted to believe that our department is here for us and to protect us. But when I watched the video, I realized that our senior was pre-judged to be a threat like how I was pre-judged to be a threat,” she said.
The community forum at the East Side Freedom Library was organized by Xiong’s family, the Justice For Yia Xiong campaign, Black Lives Matter Minnesota, Families Supporting Families Against Police Brutality, and Communities United Against Police Brutality. Their goal was to provide a space for mourning and to gather community input on police reform.
St. Paul council members Russel Balenger, Mitra Jalali, and Nelsie Yang also attended the forum along with Senator Foung Hawj and Ramsey County Commissioner Mai Chong Xiong.
“Yia was basically hunted down. He was hunted down like an animal, given no opportunity to respond,” Mai Chong Xiong said. “He could’ve been your mom or your dad—your loved one. So, we have to think about safety, what safety truly is. What gives me hope, and us coming here together is that, Black, brown, Asian people are coming together.”
Xiong was killed on February 11 when St. Paul police responded to a call of a resident threatening other residents with a knife at the Winslow Commons Apartments.
According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the case: Officers arrived around 5 p.m. and ordered Xiong to drop a knife in his hand. He ignored their orders, and was fatally shot by an officer at the scene.
Police body camera footage released last week shows Xiong walking away from officers Noushue Cha and Abdirahman Dahir without responding to their commands. Xiong enters his apartment. At least one officer opens the apartment door. Xiong exits with a knife in his hand, prompting the officers back up as Cha fires his Taser and Dahir fires his police rifle.
Xiong’s family has said he was hard of hearing and didn’t speak English.
Chunhia Vue, 45, spoke about losing his brother, Chiasher Vue, after Minneapolis police fatally shot him in 2019.
“I am beyond terrified,” said Chunhia Vue. “I am beyond scared. I have vengeance. I’m in pain. That is how I really feel.”
Many attendees at Friday’s forum had questions about police protocol around use of deadly force. Several of the speakers were Hmong elders who spoke in Hmong to the crowd. Some wanted elected officials to pressure the police and address demands by Yia Xiong’s family.
“Yia Xiong!” they shouted. “We must love and support one another!”
According to Justice for Yia Xiong, Xiong’s family is demanding the firing, arrest, and prosecution of Dahir and Cha.
Xiong’s family is also demanding that all other officers involved be held accountable, that an independent investigation be carried out, and that State Attorney General Keith Ellison lead the prosecution of officers Dahir and Cha. They also want the public release of all police body camera footage from the incident, police dispatch transcripts, and the names of all officers at the scene.
The Black Panther Nation Minnesota and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee also attended the event.
“And brothers and sisters, and I’m calling you brothers and sisters because we are all one, and we’re stronger together,” said Nasiy Nasir X, local chairman of Black Panther Nation Minnesota. “Unity is power. Unity is power. This is what they fear right here, it’s unity. And we will stand with the family until you receive the justice you deserve.”
Toshira Garraway Allen, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, told the crowd she has been in touch with Xiong’s family. Garraway Allen’s group provides financial and emotional support to families grieving a loved one killed by police.
“To hear the cries of the family, to know my own pain, to hear the pain of the community—it is imperative, it is vital to us coming together and sticking together as a community no matter what you look like,”Garraway Allen said. “It is imperative and vital that we carry out this fight together. Going forward we have to all show up. If they kill one of us, we must all show up.”
Some attendees said police need longer training to deal with stressful situations and be better acquainted with the communities they serve.
“If you work in a community, get to know the community,” said Dr. Brian Xiong. “And if you work with the community, protect the community. If your excuse is, ‘I fear for my life,’ Get a new job.”
Paul Xiong has lived in Minnesota for 45 years. He said he has seen police officers act aggressively and draw their weapons many times in the past.
“Remember this happened to Yia Xiong. It will happen to you,” said Xiong. “So all of you, we come together, we have to say something.”