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‘It’s About Our Community Coming Together’ – Hmong Leaders React To Mass Shooting

Kerry Klein
Valley Public Radio
Pao Yang, a leader in the Hmong community, addresses the media a day after the shooting.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has identified the victims killed in Sunday night’s mass shooting at a family party in southeast Fresno.

The four men, 23-year-old Xy Lee, 31-year-old Phia Yang, 38-year-old Kou Xiong and 40-year-old Kalaxang Thao, all of Fresno, are believed to be of Hmong descent. Xiong lived at the home where the shooting occurred, and Lee was a prominent local singer. Law enforcement have yet to release the identities of the six men still recovering.

“It’s a dark day in our community, not only in our Hmong community but I think in our Fresno community,” said Pao Yang, head of The Fresno Center, a non-profit organization that provides services for New Americans, during a press conference on Monday morning.

“Obviously our community is lost for words,” said Blong Xiong after the press conference. He was Fresno’s first Hmong city councilmember and is currently the Executive Director of the non-profit Asian Business Institute and Resource Center. “We’re just trying to find an answer if there is one, and right now I’m not sure there is,” he said.

During the press conference, Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall announced the formation of a multi-agency “Asian gang task force” after reporting his officers had seen an uptick in gang-related crime in Southeast Fresno. He also said it was likely some people attending the party where the shooting took place had been involved in a “disturbance” earlier in the week. Hall stopped short of definitively calling Sunday’s shooting a gang-related act, however, or saying the victims had been tangled up with gangs.

Blong Xiong said he was unfamiliar with the rise in crime. “I didn’t know that there is an uptick and it’s going to be an interesting conversation with our chief to talk about, what is considered an uptick? We don’t know,” he said, and questioned law enforcement’s use of the words “Asian gangs” in the task force name without presenting further evidence.

Bobby Bliatout, CEO of the Greater Fresno Health Organization and a candidate vying for Devin Nunes’s Congressional seat in the 2020 election, is also dubious of the connection between the shooting and gangs. “I haven’t seen an uptick myself or heard of an uptick of this kind of violence,” he said. “I do know, however, there is a stereotype of [Asian gangs].”

As Hmong New Year’s celebrations ramp up, involving large family gatherings and culminating in a 7-day festival at the Fresno Fairgrounds at the end of December, Bliatout worries about his community’s sense of safety. “Right now there is a fear that it may not be as safe as possible,” he said, but he hopes that can change with nudging from community leaders and assistance from law enforcement. “It’s about our community coming together and that’s what has to happen.”

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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