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Saturday, October 14, 2006


Apologies to the Post-Crescent

Updated October 21, 2006: I owe an apology to the Post-Crescent. This post was previously titled "Giving Up on the Post-Crescent" after it appeared that they were not going to print my letter-to-the-editor in support of Toua Lor. The initial letter was sent in late September, and several revisions followed over the next few days, but on October 14, when I had waited over a week from the final revision, I concluded that they weren't interested in the story and weren't printing the letter. I based this on past experience in seeing letters get printed within a couple days of receipt - coupled with my belief that any of the previous editions should have been OK (though the first one was too long and would have required editing out a section). So I gave up and concluded that the Post-Crescent was really interested in understanding some of the other perspectives on this story. However, today, October 21, the letter was printed. Obviously, I was overly impatient and apologize for my disappointment in the editorial area.

If you aren't familiar with the story, Toua (Chuetoua Lor) is the US citizen and Hmong man who, according to a white man who accosted him while hunting, allegedly pointed his .22-caliber rifle at the legs of the man to keep him away. The man, who thought that Toua had gotten to the hunting grounds by going through his property (update: input from neighbors provides good support for that belief), called the police and reported the gun pointing. As a result, Toua was put in jail, given an unusually high bond, and now faces felony charges that could result in 13 years imprisonment. The media repeatedly linked the alleged incident to a massacre of six hunters in 2004 by an angry Hmong man. (Update: I improperly recalled a quote from a town official that was quoted by the media when this story was printed. It was not as bad as I thought.) From my perspective, there has been no effort by the media to consider another side to the story.

Update: Now let me point out that if someone had pointed a gun at me under these circumstances, I, too, would have called the police. Calling the police to report such a thing was surely a reasonable and responsible action. My concern is not with the man who reported Toua, but how the media reported the story.

Printing the letter is a positive step forward, and I hope future coverage will be more accurate, more balanced, and more likely to consider that there might be more to this story than has been shared so far. Further, I hope they will consider that the Hmong community might have a thing or two to say about this case.

There is a Hmong community perspective to this story that I also feel needs to be considered. One Hmong woman told me that if Toua goes to jail, everyone in the Hmong community goes to jail. Many see it as a racial issue, as a violation of their rights, as a threat to their place in the community. (Update: This is based on the belief that Toua was hunting legally, something that may not be correct when everything becomes known.) (Update: When I previously raised their concern of Hmong people that one man's call to the police can get them in trouble, let me emphasize that it in no way implies that Mr. van Dinter did anything improperly, or that his actions were racially motivated. My impression of him is that he is a reasonable person, and I suspect that he acted in good faith in the encounter. In fact, based on what I know from the input of Liberty folks, I cannot criticize his concerns nor his calling the police. I hope the whole incident was just a huge misunderstanding. Also, when I ask why the media has not explored the reasons for the second encounter, that does not meant that I think the reasons were racist or anything else improper. In fact, My van Dinter's explanation for that in the preliminary hearing sounded reasonable to me, especially after learning more from some of the residents of the area. I apologize sincerely if my criticism of media coverage has made it sound like I think Mr. van Dinter did wrong. I am unable to judge what happened. My beef has been with media actions, not Mr. van Dinter.)

There are racial flames stirring in this community. Some Hmongs are feeling threatened. The whole community needs to know that there may have been a huge misunderstanding in the woods - or if not, that the justice system will settle it. Let's consider the broad issues here and quit stirring up the white community with references to massacres of white people. In my (biased) opinion, we have a situation here with a gentle, kind US citizen who happens to be Hmong. Nobody was hurt. No massacre occurred. Perhaps this will prove to simply be a huge misunderstanding with two people acting in good faith but misunderstanding one another.

Update from Oct. 31: Of course, I may be wrong in my views, and it's possible that a fair jury will find Toua guilty of a felony. I really don't know what happened when the two met, and in no way wish to impugn the integrity of the man who allegedly was threatened by Toua. But the perspective of the Hmong community and the possibility of other explanations for what happened seem to have been overlooked in the coverage by the media.

Here is the final version of my letter that was printed on October 21. Again, I apologize to the Post-Crescent and thank them for printing this.
I am disappointed by the media's handling of the case of Toua Lor, the Hmong man arrested for allegedly threatening a white man on private property while hunting squirrels with a .22 caliber rifle. To repeatedly link this with the Chai Vang murders is irresponsible. No one was injured. In fact, contrary to media reports, Toua was not on the man's private property when the alleged gun pointing took place. According to the accuser's own statement in the Oct. 5 preliminary hearing, the alleged crime took place when the man accosted Toua on corporate land where it was legal for Toua to hunt. There are questions that need to be asked about the reasons for accosting Toua and the rights of Hmong hunters striving to follow the law.

I know Toua well. He has been an exemplary US citizen and resident of Appleton with a well-earned reputation of being a gentle and compassionate man with no hint of violent tendencies. He has shown remarkable restraint in difficult circumstances and does not lose his temper. I believe he would never point a gun at someone other than in self-defense. The media has not even hinted at the possibility of self-defense, if a gun was in fact directed toward the feet or legs of man who accosted the hunter, but we may find it to be a factor in the alleged event.

In my opinion, there has been little effort to consider the other side of this story and the community has been harmed by the tactics of the press. This racially charged case demands more accurate and more responsible coverage. For failing to accurately explain what happened (or what didn't happen), and for repeatedly linking this case to a past massacre, the media owes Toua Lor and the community an apology.

Jeff, your problem is that you think the Post-Crescent matters. Have you noticed how little news it carries? How irrelevant most of it is? I know you subscribe, but it's a waste of money.

Look at their editorial page this morning. They have a long letter from one person writing to some anonymous critic who suposedly has sent him anonymous letters criticizing his letters to the editor. So we have to read one writer responding in a public forum to one other anonymous individual, calling him names ("Mr. or Ms. Chicken" and so forth) and complaining about dumb and cowardly his opponent is. That deserves space in the newspaper instead of your letter, according to the PC. Silly.
What is the media afraid of? It's ridiculous that they won't touch this story more fairly.
Jeff, just out of curiosity, when did you send your most recent letter in to the paper, and how long did you wait to see it appear in print before "giving up on it"?

Seems to me most letters in the paper take several days to see print; for example, responses to previous submissions almost always seem to be a week or 10 days later. Heck, today's paper contains a letter from Bergstrom about Quarry Quest, which was a month ago.

Given how someone pointed out a few errors on your part after you criticized the paper before about the letter, I'd be curious to hear your answer on this point, as well.

I also think it's worthy of noting your hypocrisy on the issue. You're blasting The Post-Crescent for having a bias against Toua when your letter makes it fairly obvious you have a bias FOR him. I'm not saying who's wrong and right; you may be absolutely correct and he will be completely vindicated.

But your comments also echo those I've heard in other criminal cases. "I can't believe Timmy stole/beat up/axe-murdered/whatever yesterday. He was such a nice boy, shoveling our driveway in the winter." Again, this isn't a declaration of Toua's guilt or innocence, merely an observation that it isn't uncommon for people to think they know someone and then be completely surprised by their behavior.

Obviously I was too impatient. It had been nearly 3 weeks from the original letter and over a week from the final revision when I "gave up" on the Post-Crescent. My experience in the past was that accepted letters get printed within a week - evidenced, for example, by another letter printed today that responds to an October 16 item in the Post-Crescent. And remember, people don't write and submit letters instantly. Many are sent by mail, and they may be written several days after an event occurs. How do you know that the Quarry Fest letter was written at the time of the event?

For whatever reason, there was a greater delay than I am used to seeing in this case. I wish something had shown up when the event was still a hot topic, but I'm grateful that my comments finally made it into print.

But I think you're missing the point if you see this as another "Johnny's such a good boy" case. This is a racially charged case in which sloppy reporting can truly harm the community. The case has unfairly been linked to a massacre of six white by a Hmong, stirring up fears and tensions - when no one was hurt. The reporting has offered conclusory comments about Hmong people trespassing and breaking the law while hunting, when the alleged crime took place on corporate land where Toua was legally hunting. What happened when the white man accosted him?

Questions that are being asked in the Hmong community include these: Why did he accost him? Can white men accost Hmong hunters anywhere and drive them away? Can whites get Hmong hunters thrown in jail based on their word only?

One Hmong woman told me that if Toua is sent to jail, "we all go to jail." And I see her point. Can you see that there are broader social issues in this case? Issues that demand accurate and fair reporting? Can you see that by allowing factual errors from poor reporting to remain uncorrected, that harm is being done to the community?

As for the hypocrisy charge, can you explain what you mean? Are you saying that it's hypocritical to criticize unfair or inaccurate reporting if one has an opinion? The media is supposed to report the facts and be objective. When they fail to do that, how is a citizen who objects suddenly a "hypocrite" if they have an opinion on the matter? If a pro-Doyle citizen objects to apparent anti-Doyle coverage in the press, is he or she a hypocrite? Can only people with no opinions speak out? Come on.
Jeff, thank you for acting as the voice for the Hmong people. I for one is appauled at the media for their biased reporting. They have no consideration for the Lor's family. What happen to "Innocent until proven guilty"?

I so sick to me stomach when I read the story. After the 13th word labeling the alleged accusor, "Hmong" I stopped reading it. The media made it look like All Hmongs are killers (referring to their comparison with the Chai Vang case). Obviously, the Editor and the reporter for this story need lesson on "NOT TO STEREOTYPE" and be better news reporter.

Let the wrongdoers get punished. Two days ago, I called to cancel my subcription to the paper.
The media only wants to cover what people want to hear not the facts even if it means to put words into other's mouth. I have to agree that I got really sick to my stomach too. It has given me a good reason to stop watching the news and the post-crescent. I often wonder how much of what they are saying are true. I guess you don't really know it until it happens to you.
Thank you Jeff!
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Someone has posted allegations here that I have deleted claiming that a certain Hmong person has a violent past. I reject that and the actual details of public records also will refute the allegation. I don't think it is fair or relevant to go into those details on this public forum, but anyone familiar with some of the challenges of Hmong culture in the US will understand the kind of legal trouble Hmong immigrants can get into in this country.

If you really want to understand, I'd be happy to meet you and explain.

In fact, since I owe some folks in Liberty an apology for being rough on them in discussing this case, I'd be happy to come out to a meeting or whatever and take your complaints up close and personal, and offer my apologies. I obviously did not understand some of the perspectives of folks out there, nor did I understand the landscape and so forth, and have been too hasty sometimes. I still extend my moral support to Toua and hope that he will be found innocent, but I also recognize that steps are needed to help hunters avoid problems with landowners and property rights and would like to know how I can share information with the Hmong community to help on that side of the equation as well. I'd be happy to come and meet some of you to talk.
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See my Nov. 5 post - it implicitly covers some unfair charges that were made here.

I responded more directly and in more detail in an answer here that I left up for a couple days for the person who made the allegations to see, but have removed out of fairness to the accused.
So...Jeff...what are your thoughts on Tua NOW? He got nailed just a few years after your rants about how he was treated. Yep, he got nailed for another DNR violation, and this one stuck. He also divorced his wife, how does the LDS look upon that these days? Ready to say you were WRONG yet? You never did come talk to the people of Liberty, nor did you ever apologize for dragging Mr.VanDinter's name through the mud.

Tua was guilty then and you should know it by now....
I explained above that I had no beef with Mr. van Dinter and no reason to believe he acted improperly. I am not sure how that is "dragging his name through the mud." I also offered to come to Liberty if they wanted to talk, but received no invitation. If Toua has a recent conviction for a DNR violation, that certainly raises the possibility of error in complying with other DNR regulations on his part in the original confrontation, though really may not be relevant. As written above, I recognized it was was certainly a possibility that Toua was at fault and might be convicted of a felony for the gun-pointing incident. My concern was with how the media handled the event by citing a recent massacre by a Hmong hunter as if it were related. As for the other matters you raise to impugn Mr. Lor, they are not relevant to this matter and aren't any of our business. That's my opinion, anyway. Sorry this case is causing you a lot of pain even now. I hope long-time Wisconsonites and Hmong immigrants will be able to get along and avoid tense encounters while hunting or in any other aspect of life.
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