Last week Chai Soua Vang, a truck driver from Minnesota, was found trespassing on private land while hunting in Wisconsin. Confronted, he turned as if to leave.
Forty yards away he opened fire.
The owner of the land called for help, an act that only increased the scope of the tragedy. When it was over, Vang had taken the lives of six people and wounded two others.
Four of the dead were shot in the back. Of the eight victims, only one was armed.
Of all the tragic tales we hear on the news, this seems to be one of the most cut and dry. Aside from a ludicrous denial that he quickly recanted, the statements of Vang and the survivors agree on the general course of events. Where they differ, forensic evidence refutes Vang. Furthermore, Vang has been cited for trespassing in the past, and was recently investigated – although not charged – with spousal abuse.
Since the shootings Vang has also become a suspect in an unsolved 2001 murder in the area. That victim was also shot in the back.
Which is why I was surprised when a friend said he hoped Vang was acquitted.
Now I make no claim to being the nicest or most inclusive of men, but in my thirty years I have managed to gather a pretty diverse group of friends. They include college graduates and high school dropouts, Christians and a Druid, Republicans and self-proclaimed Socialists.
The friend that hoped for acquittal? A conservative married man in his late thirties who’s a diehard Republican. He’s also a cop.
Not exactly the opinion I expected from him, but the more we talked, the more I realized his opinion wasn’t based on facts or scientific reasoning. It was based on his own emotional response to the situation in the news.
Because among all those other adjectives, my friend is also African-American.
“You don’t understand what it was like for him up there,” he said. “Alone in the woods surrounded by a bunch of angry white guys? How scared do you think he was?”
I asked him how he thought that excused killing six unarmed people. “You think they were so innocent? What do you think they said to him. ‘Please Mr. Asian-American, vacate this land that you are illegally occupying.’ Pu-lease.”
Again, I asked how that excused shooting four people in the back, or stalking and killing the initial survivors for more than a hundred yards in the woods. If it was just plain old fear, be it racially motivated or not, wouldn’t it have been a quick, mindless attack? Why the methodical, coldhearted approach? The man put on camouflage gear in the middle of the attack, for Pete’s sake.
I never got a satisfactory answer. I don’t expect there is one.
I don’t understand this seemingly irresistible temptation to project bias into every situation. And it isn’t a phenomenon limited to race or creed. Gay activists are angry because of a report that perhaps, just perhaps, Matthew Sheppard was murdered for reasons other than his sexuality. I understand his death became their movement’s rallying cry, but what does it say when the loss of a young man’s life becomes less important than a message you wish to send? Regardless of why he died, his death was tragic and wrong.
Maybe I can’t understand this precisely because I’m a white, straight male. But Vang didn’t try to kill all eight people because of color or ethnicity, he did it to assure that there’d be no witnesses left to identify him. He failed.
So should the attempts to pigeonhole everything based on race.