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Group offers culturally specific police interaction training to Hmong elders

Equipping seniors with extra knowledge is their main goal, but the trainings aren't just about police. They also cover other things seniors can be susceptible to.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Nearly three months after the fatal St. Paul police shooting of Mr. Yia Xiong, the Ramsey County attorney said it has received the investigative file from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and is currently reviewing the case. 

When the shooting happened in February, it shook up the Hmong community and left them with more questions than answers, especially after Mr. Xiong's family members said that Mr. Xiong is hard of hearing and there may have been a language barrier.

"My dad do not speak English," a family member said when they addressed the media after the shooting. "There was a Hmong cop you know, I think if he could've spoke Hmoob to my dad, my dad would at least understand and he would follow the rule."

Since that shooting, the community has taken it into its own hands to help prevent something like the shooting from happening again.

Regardless of the specifics surrounding the police shooting of Mr. Xiong, to Tzianeng Vang, a tragedy, is a tragedy, is a tragedy.

"Just the fact that somebody lost a life over something like that — is just incomprehensible," Vang said.

Vang with the Hmong Shaman and Herb Center in partnership with Asian Media Access has been going around running trainings recently. They've been training Hmong elders on how to interact with police.

"The urgency or the need has not really been there until that incident," Vang explained. "Not so much that it was born out of it, but that created an even greater urgency for us to put out the message."

The message they deliver is culturally specific.

"In our culture, you show respect by lowering your status, lower your head, and do not have eye contact with law enforcement or any official," Vang described. "But in this country, we're supposed to be acting differently. We need to have eye contact when someone speaks to us; we need to show that we are paying attention. We can't walk away, we can't lower our head thinking that we are being respectful. That is in fact probably doing the reverse."

Vang's No. 1 advice to Hmong Elders?

"Even if you know how to speak English, there's a difference between knowing how to speak English and understanding the legality of the English that you spoke," he said. "Even if you speak English well, to the point where you comprehend everything, the best thing is to just say no English."

Equipping seniors with extra knowledge is their main goal. The trainings are not just about law enforcement, but also other things seniors can be susceptible to.

"Every year there's $60 billion wasted in Medicare fraud and scams," Jetta Wiedemeier Bower said. Wiedemeier Bower is the volunteer and outreach manager at Trellis, a nonprofit that's an agency on aging within the Twin Cities. They connect older individuals with services and resources. 

"The unfortunate part is that individuals target our older adults, because they're older, because of hearing, because of vulnerabilities of the heart or language," Wiedemeier Bower said.

In terms of why the onus falls on the communities of color to educate themselves, Vang says it's not just on one group.

"The reality is that everybody has to do their little part," Vang said. "We cannot depend on one spectrum or dimension to do their part and expect everybody to be affected or be changed by it."

"Hopefully this never happens again, hopefully, we don't have to walk this path," Wiedemeier Bower said, of Mr. Xiong's death. "But if we do, we might be able to reach individuals to help someone else prevent this from happening again. Whether it's a tragedy with guns, with fraud or scams, or other ways where we can help our older adults feel safe."

Vang said they have three other training sessions scheduled at area Hmong senior centers, and they are welcoming other adult daycare centers to get in touch with them if they are interested in this training. It's offered in many other languages, including Karen and Chinese.

You can contact the Hmong Shaman and Herb Center at 612-376-7715 and hmongshamanherbcenter@amamedia.org.

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