The Justice for Yia Xiong Coalition held a press conference on April 19, to release the transcripts of the 911 calls that led up to the killing of Hmong elder Yia Xiong by St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) officers in February.
Xiong walked to his apartment after officers arrived on the scene, and briefly entered his residence. Once inside, Officer Noushue Cha kicked open the apartment door, and when Xiong emerged holding a knife, Officer Abdirahman Dahir fired his rifle, killing Xiong.
Two calls were made from the Winslow Commons Apartments on Feb. 11 by individuals whose identities were not released. The first call, made by a person celebrating a birthday party for their daughter, said a man with a “machete” was coming in and out of the party room, and at one point “came towards [the caller’s] husband and son,” and tried to touch the caller’s grandchild.
The second transcript says that a man came into the party room and tried to give the children at the party money. When they refused to accept the money, he left and later returned to the party room with a knife.
Snowdon Herr, chief organizer for the Justice for Yia Xiong Coalition, said the situation was “a total misinterpretation of the actions of Yia Xiong,” calling it a “culture shock.” Herr says that in Hmong culture, elders at birthday parties always touch the top of the child’s head and give them money, which is why Xiong attempted to touch the child and give children at the party money.
Herr also said the knife Xiong was carrying was a “cuaj puam,” which is a type of traditional Hmong knife that nearly every Hmong family owns. A cuaj puam is commonly used for cutting meat, wood, or plants while gardening. Herr believes Xiong was unable to explain his actions due to a language barrier.
“Yia Xiong actually did a good cause of diplomacy, a gesture to the child and the family,” Herr said. “But instead, the family translated to something else totally opposite of the intention of Yia Xiong, and it escalated to something else until Yia’s death.”
Toshira Garraway Allen, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence (FSFAPV) has been supporting Xiong’s family since the killing. Garraway Allen says she thinks the officers were wrong, and that she did not see “any immediate danger” to the officers’ lives.
“It’s really sad and it’s hurtful that we would be going through something like this at a time like this, and that’s how you know the culture of policing has to change,” Garraway Allen said. “Because even while the world is watching Minnesota, that clearly there is a major problem, things like this are still happening. I know that the family just feels so disrespected.”
A Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigation into the incident is ongoing. Herr says, Scott Mueller, the deputy superintendent of investigative services at the BCA, contacted him on Monday, April 17, to say that the investigation would conclude in about three weeks. Bonney Bowman of the BCA says the results of the investigation will be forwarded to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.
“I pray that they prosecute the officers who were involved in the shooting. That’s what everyone in the coalition for justice for Yia Xiong pray for,” Herr said. “We have been trying to pressure the police and the government to make sure they do their investigation thoroughly and impartially. But you never know. It could be anyone’s guess and we hope for the best—that justice prevails in this case.”
Garraway Allen said she had “little to no trust” in the BCA. She doubted Ramsey County would file charges after the BCA’s investigation had concluded. She also noted frustration with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and SPPD Chief Axel Henry for not discussing the killing with Xiong’s family in detail, until after the conclusion of the BCA investigation.
“All I could do was hug his wife as she cried,” Garraway Allen said, regarding supporting the family after their meeting with city officials.
“The people in these political seats, we wonder, do they see the wrong the rest of us see,” Garraway Allen said. “Are their positions more important to them than to stand up for what they know in their hearts is right?”
Herr said he and Xiong’s family plan to meet with Mayor Carter and Chief Henry again after the BCA concludes its investigation.
Update: This story was updated on April 27, 2023, to note that BCA results would be forwarded to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, not Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.