Two Side to Every Coin

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 | 0 Comments

Today is the one year anniversary of one of the worst hunting tragedy in the state of Wisconsin. Last year on this day a lone Hmong hunter, Chai Soua Vang, was confronted by a group of hunters for using their deer stand. After an exchange of words, Chai openned fire on the group killing 6 hunters: Robert Crotteau, Joey Crotteau, Allan Laski, Mark Roidt, Jessica Willers, and Denny Drew.

This is such a complex story. I remember my dad talking to me about. His initial reaction was that these hunters had gotten really bold, talking way too big, threatening bodily harm and he felt he had no choice. Which is weird, because my dad usually comes across as racist. I know the way that rural Wisconsinites are. I've lived in the woods of Wisconsin for half of my life. They like to throw their weight around. It is totally believable that these hunters were very aggressive and scary. But even so, even if Chai had started out shooting to defend himself, in the end, he was shooting out of anger.

And many would like to write this off as a simple case of a crazy murderer. But really, it is way more complex than that. It really had to do with good ole boy machismo and racism hitting head-on out in a tract of isolated woods with a guy who had suffered too much racism in his life and felt very threatened by the large group of very angry white people.

The group that were shot at have conflicting stories among themselves. Some say that racial slurs were not shouted at Vang, some admit that there were. Some say that Vang shot the first shot and none of them had loaded weapons, but one in the group said that he did shoot one shot. Vang tried to leave two times, being confronted each time, before he finally gave up trying to leave and just started firing after, he claims, he was fired at first. I don't think that we will ever know the whole story, but as you can see, there's more to this than just some crazy guy with a gun and a score to settle.

I hope that people come away from this with more than, "Chai was just a crazy man." By allowing it to stand at that we will never learn the lessons that we should from it. I do believe that he snapped out there in the woods, but he was helped over the edge by some in that group. I hope that others see this as a warning to how quickly a situation can get out of hand - especially when there are weapons involved! In other words - don't go ganging up on some guy alone in the woods with a gun throwing racial slurs at him! Not smart.

Chai was convicted, as he should have been. He did it. He admits it. He even turned himself in. But we should not forget the part that the people that he shot played in tragedy.

So this Thanksgiving, we should all think about the way that we treat other people. I know that we can't always be nice to everyone, but we should at least treat people civily. In the immortal words of another complex man - Rodney King - "Can we all get along?"

(Read the Wikipedia article for more background)


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Blogger pastamasta said...

Sadly not, apparently, dear Rodney. I wish it were otherwise, but it seems to be bred into the species. Here's hoping we can learn to rise above the baseness of our genes and be nice to people (even if only because it would make used-car salesmen's jobs a damn sight easier).

November 22, 2005 3:10 AM

Blogger nope said...

Sylvana, this is a wonderful post. I guess it is not so peculiar to have the same thoughts - yours own a local scale, involving a horrible tragedy, and mine on a global scale, involving the world. The common thread is the human being, and the facility for meanness is indeed based in our genes, as pastamasta mentions above. As long as there is humankind we will be killing each other - as long as there is humankind we'll find something about each other that somehow makes us seem unequal to our presence. I do not understand how we came to be the top of the food chain; it's a wonder we didn't kill ourselves off eons ago. But,, then - we are grounded in civility and kindness, so perhaps that saves (has saved!) us in the end. I find it fascinating that we kill and then gather for comfort.

November 22, 2005 10:03 AM

Blogger sideshow bob said...

good post!

November 22, 2005 6:58 PM

Blogger Sylvana said...

PastaMasta, glad to see you are surviving your new addition! And I'm not sure used-car salesman count in this. ;) Bluntness is the only thing they understand!

Indiaiynke, I'm glad that you got the global connection that I was going for. It is not just about these particular people, it is about all of us. How easy would a tragedy like this happen to us if we do not take into consideration the other people involved. I mean, they are people after all. It just reminds me of how we dehumanize people all the time - like cashiers (since it is that time of year!) - and therefore treat them as if they are not human beings. It's way too easy to be rude and down-right mean to someone that you do not see as a person. And I think that is exactly what happened out in the woods last year and helps people all over the world do bad things to others.

SSB, aw shucks! I wanted to put together an eloquent, well thought out essay about what this local tragedy had to show us about ourselves - you know, get to the basic human tragedy. But in the end, I was feeling pinched for time and thought that maybe it came out like I had just thrown it together. But then, you know me - such a perfectionist!

November 22, 2005 11:52 PM

Blogger Shannon said...

Great post. The first Hmong I ever met was when I lived for a year w/ my grandma in Neenah. I had just moved there from a rather diverse middle school in Vegas and was, no offense Wisconsin, shocked by the racism in not only my classmates but my family. There was complete intolerance for the Hmong and disrespect for their culture. I'm not saying Chai was right, but I could totally see it happening. I could just hear it! I saw my unlces there, big macho hunters, after a few beers, talkin' shit, throwing out the racial slurs, and...and wow, I'm glad I escpaed their closed mindedness.

An all around tragedy.

November 23, 2005 12:49 AM

Blogger Sylvana said...

Shannon, of course the people that do it see nothing wrong with it. They have a sense that it is OK because they are better than those people and that everything they are saying about them is true - which both of these assumtions are false. And I do emphasis the ASS in that!
People here have turned a blind eye to it all. They don't understand how harmful it is. Then you'll even get the jerks going on and on about "P.C." and how real people just say it like it is and others should be able to handle it. But they forget that what they are talking about is rudeness and utter disrespect.
It really saddens me that I have to admit that many people in Wisconsin are like this. And I just want to say, that the whole idea that you are only a product of your environment is false. I was raised in this environment and I realized at a very early age that it was all bullshit. I chose my own path. Many do not because it is just easiest to go along with the crowd. What I hope that people get from this is that they don't have to do that. They can stand up against it and do what is right. Maybe if someone had done that out in those woods, Chai would have been allowed to walk away and the tragedy would have been an option not taken.

November 23, 2005 9:00 AM

Blogger SierraBella said...

Good post, I remember the tragic event.

November 26, 2005 4:12 PM

Blogger Sylvana said...

Sierrabella, thanks. It will be remembered here for a very long time!

November 28, 2005 6:51 PM

Blogger Indigo Red said...

Yep, couldn't agree more. It was the victims fault. And they were all victims in this case. None of the participants were innocent of an event that should never have happened.

November 30, 2005 11:28 AM

Blogger Sylvana said...

Precisely, Indigo Red.

December 01, 2005 10:50 AM

Blogger someone said...

Ok, I see your point. I do not agree however. We have to respect all people but you are forgetting that not everyone in Wisconsin are people who have a few beers and push others around with their "machoness". You are defending the hmong hunter because he is hmong and you are stereotyping the other hunters as hicks who like to push others around. There were only 3 people of the hunting group who actually said any thing to Vang. The others were innocent bystanders who didn't deserve anything on that day. Look at Vang's criminal background and compare that to the other hunters' non-existent criminal background. Color is not an issue in this case. White, black, hmong, whatever, we are all the same. Look at the real causes for once and forget about skin color. Look at the innocent families and friends who lost everything that day and the young innocent hunters who lost their lives. They deserve to be remembered for the people that they were. The people that we should be. Understanding, caring, people that you are saying we should be. No one is ever really going to know what happened that day and God has judged them all and I believe they are all in heaven where they belong while Vang is where he belongs as well.

January 06, 2006 8:23 PM

Blogger Sylvana said...

Someone, if you seriously believe that race and machismo were not issues, you are mistaken. I have lived in Wisconsin all but two years of my life. I have lived in just about every section of the state. I know how the people are here. I am not stereotyping them, it was admitted that he was threatened and was called racial slurs. Those are facts of the case. It was also admitted that they did not just let him leave. He was repeatedly confronted. Why? He was trying to leave. It could have ended there. But there were some in the group that felt they had something to prove. Machismo. Plain and simple. They sparked the tragedy because they just couldn't leave it go peacefully. Not everyone that was shot was involved with the instigation, that is true. No one deserved to die out there, it is just how things played out.

My point with this post was that it is not a good vs evil, cut and dry case. Vang was a victim in the tragedy too. He deserves to go to jail for what he did, but he does have a reason for doing what he did. He didn't go into the woods that day looking to get into a fight and kill some people any more than that group of hunters was looking to get shot. If we don't try to understand how this whole thing happened, we really can't learn anything from it, and that would make this an even greater tragedy.

January 07, 2006 1:33 AM

Blogger someone said...

I have thought about this case way too much over the past year. It has been a part of me in every way. I have lived in Wisconsin all my life. I know that not everyone is the stereotypical hick. I knew all those people who were killed that day. I know that these people didn't do anything that day that should have caused them their lives. Name calling while it isn't right is not a reason to kill anyone. No gun was pointed at Vang no gun was shot at Vang before he opened up on these innocent people. He had no right to do what he did. I sat in the court room while he got up and pretended to point his gun as he explained how he ran down and shot all of these people. He had excitment in his voice as he did it. I sat there and listened to him tell me that these people deserved to die. He had no sympathy for what he did. He is a man that will forever haunt my dreams. No one in their right mind could kill six people because they made him angry.

January 07, 2006 7:50 PM

Blogger Sylvana said...

Someone, I'm sorry for your loss. This event certainly was a tragedy for all involved.

It may be that you are so close to those killed and you may not have had enough similar life experiences to Vang's that you can't understand what led Vang to do what he did.

Racial slurs are not simple "name calling". It is easy to not see how invasive and threatening racism can be when you are a white person who never has to deal with it personally. Racial slurs denote that the person that they are being directed at are inferior, not even seen as real humans. They conjure hatred and unreasonability from the person saying them. When shouted, they will even bring to mind the possibility of great bodily harm, maybe even death.

Now combine that with a large group against a lone Hmong, out in the woods, miles away from anyone that might help him. It doesn't take the whole group to say these things, it only takes one with no disagreement from the others to appear that the whole group supports that feeling.

Now combine that with the fact that the confronting group will not let the person leave the situation that they are in. They continue to block his exit; they continue to threaten. What would be the reason for not letting him go except that this group feels that justice has not been served yet? When this is mixed with anger and racial slurs, it can easily be assumed that this group means to hurt in some way.

Combine that with more of these people gathering to confront the Hmong. This signals an escalation of the situation.

Combine that with the thought that these angry, unreasonable people probably have weapons, guns to be exact.

Combine that with the fact that this particular subject of racism has been through a war where he has had to flee people wishing to kill him and his family.

Combine that with the fact that this person was beat up regularly by white kids because he was Hmong.

Combine that with the fact that this particular person has been trained for 6 years by the military to react quickly to potentially life-threatening situations.

Combine that with the belief that someone has just pulled a weapon on him as he has turned to walk away. It didn't even really have to happen, he only needs to believe that it did. How many stories have you heard of police shooting unarmed people because they thought the person had pulled a gun?

With every decision that was made out there in the woods, each of these people were brought closer to the tragedy. We can't know the background of everyone that we meet, the things that have happened in their lives to make them the person that they are. This is a great reason to be respectful of others, if not simply because it is the right thing to do. People sometimes do very terrible things simply because of the situation that they are forced into.

Being in a situation where you must protect yourself from mortal dangers brings up a weird concoction of emotions. You are scared at first. Adrenline pumps into your body to keep you alert. Your mind often turns fear to anger, since fear isn't as effective of a motivator to keep you successfully fighting for your life. The person may even feel a sense of satisfaction or joy at having succeeded in keeping themselves alive. Adrenline itself triggers good feelings in the mind and body.

My father was in the Vietnam War. His rare recounts of what happened over there are very similar to Vang's reaction - a detachment because of the horrors, yet an excitement since the mere act of recounting the story brings him back to the scene as if he were there all over again; the adrenaline pumping through his body once more. All of the emotions that you say you saw Vang go through I have seen my father go through when recounting his stories. My father isn't a heartless killer. People couldn't put themselves in the Vietnam War Veterans' shoes, they couldn't understand what the soldiers had to go through while in the jungles of Vietnam. This was a huge problem when they came back to America and people spit on them and called them baby killers and even evil. People didn't understand because they had never been in those situations themselves. They didn't try to understand because it was just easier to say they were bad people. How could you justify killing women, children, and the elderly; especially unarmed ones, right? I'm not saying that these two situations and circumstances are exactly parallel, but the basic instincts involved are.

I believe that Vang began shooting because he felt mortally threatened, but after a while, the fear turned to rage. He had reasons for doing what he did, but having a reason for something does not make it the right thing to do. Vang was not right to do what he did, which is why I say that he deserves jail time. But if we are to prevent something like this from happening again, we must be honest in understanding how it happened. It might help you to cope with your loss by just assuming that Vang was a terrible person, but that really isn't going to help this from happening again

January 08, 2006 4:53 PM

Blogger someone said...

I don't want to argue. I don't want to say that you are wrong. No one knows what really happened that day. I just want respect for the people killed that day. And I want people to know that they were not racist hicks. They didn't threaten this man because he was a hmong they did it because he was in a permanent tree stand on private land. There was no need at all for Vang to go into kill mode. Especially when only one man of the four that were talking to him had guns. Chasing down each victim one by one and then shooting other victims when they were coming unarmed to help those already shot is not how to handle a situation that could have been handled with a few words. There was one shot fired at him after he had killed 4 people already. All these men wanted was for him to leave their land and realize that there is something called private property, a map and a compus. Vang was a terrible person. No one can change my mind about that. He was a man who threatened his wife. He had trouble in the law and a bad temper. I don't think that a person that can snap so easily and start killing people should be allowed in society. It is not an issue of race it is an issue of Vang's personality. I don't think that we are ever going to agree on this situation. I just wanted to express my opinion and help to make these men be remembered for who they really were.

January 08, 2006 7:24 PM

Blogger Sylvana said...

The thing is we do agree on some things: those people did not deserve to die, Vang did snap, and he deserves to be in jail.

It's always good to get a different perspective on things, so I'm glad that you took the time to stop by and leave yours.

January 09, 2006 7:25 AM