On Saturday 6 January 2007, Green Bay, Wisconsin resident Cha Vang (left), a 40-year-old man who had been living in the United States for less than two years, was hunting, separated from the rest of his friends, when he encountered Peshtigo, Wisconsin resident James Nichols, 28. According to Nichols, arrested after showing up at a local hospital with a single, non-life-threatening gunshot wound, the two began arguing after Nichols complained Vang was interfering with his hunting. Vang shot him, he claimed, without provocation, so Nichols defended himself. In the process of questioning, he told several contradictory versions of this tale.
The facts bring the story together in stark, disturbing detail. Convicted felon Nichols, rather than reporting the incident to the police, tried to camouflage Vang’s body under leaves and debris. During questioning Nichols said Hmong people were mean and "kill everything, and that they go for anything that moves…[the] Hmong group are bad." Finally, the attorney general reported that Vang was shot from a much closer distance than Nichols claimed—and while walking AWAY from his killer. Vang was also stabbed six times, including a wound that severed his jugular vein, and was found with a 3-4 inch wooden stick protruding from his clenched teeth. Nichols claimed Vang screamed, “I'm going to kill you! I’m going to kill you!’ but Vang knew no English. Dacia James, Nichols’ fiancée who helped him hide the murder weapon, said she had never heard Nichols say anything negative about Hmong people. “He has never been racist or derogatory against someone who didn't deserve it."
Reports in January set Nichols’ first court date for 14 February but no public reports regarding this case have been seen since then. As the Washington Post reported, prejudice is not hard to find in this region (this article is no longer available online):
Bob Kovar, a retired cranberry grower, left his job to head his own initiative to talk with middle and high school students in the Minocqua (Wisconsin) area about their racial views. "At first, I didn't think my community was racist -- then I saw when I had kids in the schools that this community is pretty open about its prejudiced views and has had generations of violence over that," Kovar said. His program focuses on introducing tribal and white students to each other's cultures -- many characteristics of which they find are similar -- and educating them on diversity. On Tuesday, Kovar plans to hold a town hall meeting with students and families from the area schools to discuss racial tensions. But he has heard from many white parents that they will not attend because the meeting will be held on the reservation that feeds Indian students to Lakeland Union, the one high school in the region.
Where the hell do any of us get off acting like we own a bigger share or have a greater right to this country just because our ancestors showed up here before somebody else’s—or because those ancestors may have killed or robbed or bullied or enslaved those who were here before them? Cha Vang, his wife of 13 years Pang Vue, and their five children, and all Hmong people are in the United States because our government selected, trained, equipped, and mobilized their people to fight against Lao and Vietnamese communists. They lost 10% of their population in that conflict. It is because of America's pull-out from Southeast Asia that the communists overran Vietnam and Laos, and that the Hmong people who sided with us were compelled to flee the country.
In coming to the United States, the Hmong people's biggest obstacle is not the language, the strange, sometimes intimidating culture and technology, the pain of watching their children abandoning ages-old customs and traditions so they can be more acceptable to their classmates, or anything else as much as it is people like James Nichols—or any ignoramus who looks at one man like Chai Soua Vang and confers his misdeeds on all Hmong people—or is so stupid as to think that Chai Soua Vang (another tragic Wisconsin Hmong-white hunting incident) and Cha Vang must be related. (There are only 18 last names in Hmong culture.) Chai Soua Vang’s actions cannot be defended, but it’s quite clear that the story told by the survivors of that horrible incident omitted a few details that might have cast the dead in a less complimentary light. They weren’t as interested in telling the truth as they were putting him away. An all-white jury sentenced him without batting an eye. Chai Soua Vang got the right sentence, but it’s hard to argue that he got justice. What will a likely all-white jury decide in the case of Cha Vang’s murderer? And how closely will the non-Hmong community be watching? (Nichols has recently pleaded not guilty).