St. Paul's Hmong city council members wade into California water, cannabis dispute

Jul. 19—Two St. Paul City Council members are lending their political platforms to a conflict in rural California involving water restrictions, cannabis growers, a deadly police-involved shooting and the Hmong community. Minnesota and California are home to the largest Hmong populations in the country.

Council members Dai Thao and Nelsie Yang, who are both Hmong, have called for a federal investigation into the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office.

The county, which sits about 30 miles south of the Oregon border, approved an ordinance in May purportedly aimed at curtailing illegal marijuana growing operations. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office has used social media to ask marijuana growers and other community members to consider the effects of heavy water usage on area wells at a time of record heat and possible drought.

The ordinance prohibits water trucks from carrying more than 100 gallons of water on certain county roads without a permit. An increasingly vocal number of residents have pointed out that the rules mostly apply in the rural, unincorporated communities of Butte Valley and Big Springs, areas with large Hmong populations.

Hmong community members say the new rules unfairly target everyday water usage within their homes and have held public rallies to get their point across, with the latest rally drawing an estimated 300 people on Saturday.

Advocate Zurg Xiong entered the 11th day of a hunger strike Friday outside the Siskiyou County courthouse, according to KDRV TV-12.

Tensions have been further triggered by the fatal shooting of 35-year-old Soobleej Kaub Hawj of Kansas City, Kan., who was killed by police during the Lava Fire evacuations in the Mount Shasta area at the end of June.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said law enforcement officers from multiple agencies attempted to stop him from driving further into an evacuation zone, and Hawj responded by raising a handgun at them and firing several rounds. The officers then returned fire, according to the sheriff's office.

Hmong advocates have disputed those facts and demanded the release of police video, according to The man's wife and three kids were following in the vehicle behind his own and witnessed his death.

"Officer-involved shootings are complex investigations that take time to thoroughly investigate," said the sheriff's office in a posting to its Facebook page on Thursday. "There are certain details surrounding this incident that have not been made public as the investigation is ongoing; however, in the future, once the investigation is completed, a thorough report of the incident will be made public. We ask for your patience and understanding as this investigation is being completed."

In addition to calling for a federal investigation, Thao and Yang this week called for all charges to be dropped against 14 Hmong men arrested for trying to return to their homes during the evacuation.

"Siskiyou County has a history of racially discriminating (against) communities of color," said Yang, in a written statement. "Now, that racism comes in disguise — stripping the Hmong community of water, which is a human rights violation."

Thao added that "there needs to be accountability. ... The sheriff and his department can't be judge, jury and executioner. This will only further drift the relationship between the community and law enforcement."