Friday, June 5, 2020
Gaosong Heu talks about reactions in the Hmong community to the killing of George Floyd. Former police officer Tou Thao, a Hmong American, is seen on video of the killing running interference with the crowd and standing watch. His involvement has stirred a racial debate among Asian Americans. Jim Urquhart for NPR
Ashley Westerman for NPR has a fascinating story about unexplored racial complexities in the tragic and senseless death of African American George Floyd.
The video of the George Floyd killing shows a white police officer and a black male victim. It also shows a third identifiable person: an Asian American officer seen running interference with the crowd and standing watch. He's now-former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, a Hmong American. His presence
"not only has heightened slow-burning tensions between the Asian American and black neighborhoods in the Twin Cities area but has also divided his own tightknit immigrant community — which also happens to be the largest urban Hmong enclave in the world."
In the early 1960s, the CIA recruited Hmong to help keep the communist North Vietnamese out of neighboring Laos. In return, the U.S. promised to take care of them and their families. When Laos fell to the communists and U.S. troops pulled out in 1975, thousands of Hmong fled as refugees to neighboring Thailand and later resettled in the United States.
As Westerman describes,
"[t]he debate over Thao's real or perceived complicity as another man of color is killed has arrived in a community that has always had underlying tensions with its black neighbors. This goes back to the 1970s, when the Hmong arrived as refugees and were 'plopped into the most affordable parts of town,' says Bo Thao-Urabe, a Hmong refugee and head of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders in St. Paul. . . . Since Floyd's death, Thao-Urabe says, people in the Hmong community have been afraid they'll become targets — either online or in real life. Shops all along University Avenue, Frogtown's main thoroughfare, are boarded up. This fear has coupled with the already lingering anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has produced an upsurge in violence against Asian Americans."