Fong Lee: the human cost and the strength of his family
- Blog Post by: Bao Phi
- September 28, 2010 - 11:19 PM
Almost exactly a year ago, I was amongst a large group of local and national community members who had organized a benefit concert for the Hmong teenager, Fong Lee, who was killed in
Lee’s family was present last year at that benefit concert, which we organized to help raise awareness on Fong Lee’s death and also raise money to cover legal costs for the Lee family as they pursued a case against Officer Andersen, claiming he used excessive force.
Back then, me and my partner’s first child was still in the womb, about two weeks before the expected date of birth. We joked that our baby seemed to like hip hop, as baby seemed to turn and kick inside her mama at this event and others like it. I remember how powerful it felt, to be in a space with many different people and communities who had come together for the Lee family and to seek justice in cases of police brutality. I remember the slide show of Fong Lee that the family showed at the event, how it humanized him: the picture that most mainstream press used of Fong Lee made him look like a gangster. But the Lee family slideshow painted a different picture – a kid who went fishing with his family, went to the mall with his friends, who sometimes wore traditional Hmong clothes and sometimes wore Minnesota Vikings gear. I remember admiring how strong the Lee family was, for enduring such a tragic loss and to have to deal, publicly, with the injustice inflicted on their family.
A year later, and community members, activists, and members of the Lee family are meeting once again to talk about what’s next. My engagement with this movement has been admittedly sporadic since the benefit concert – it happened two weeks before baby was born. People who know me, know that I have been in “babyland”, learning how to be a father with me and my partner’s first child. Our baby is almost a year old, and usually she’s good in public, but on this night she’s fussy and restless, so as my partner helps facilitate the meeting I take our baby out into a hallway so she can crawl around and chuckle without being disruptive. I am looking at her, this glorious little bundle of joy, amazed to think how she grew in her mama’s womb to become this tiny creature sitting on the carpet furrowing her brow at a wrinkly package she can’t figure out how to open.
Shoua Lee, Fong Lee’s sister, comes out of the meeting for a short break, and stops by to say hello to us. She admires my daughter, her beauty and her relative calm, and says she looks like her mother. We talk a little while about kids, and family. And I’m looking at my baby daughter as we speak, her large head slowly turning, oblivious to our conversation, her wide open eyes taking in everything.
And it’s at this moment that I am reminded of what a horrifying loss the Lee family has suffered, and what they continue to endure.
I wrote in-depth about this case and my own experiences about a year ago, which you can read here:
I don’t have much to add in that regard, nor do I feel like it’s within my ability to offer an in-depth analysis of the legal system and the case over the past year. Ron Edwards, an African American community leader and former head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Urban League, who has been following the case since day one, has written a couple of excellent posts over at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, including this one:
And here’s one from Hmong Today that includes eyewitness reports not included in the
In brief, the court denied Officer Andersen used excessive force in the killing of Fong Lee. They announced this without waiting for the Lee family to return from lunch break. The family returned from lunch to find the courtroom doors locked, and a guard telling them the trial was over.
The family tried to appeal this decision – that appeal was recently denied.
So that’s why we found ourselves, again, meeting to figure out what’s next. Shoua smiles at me and the baby, then gets up and rejoins the meeting. Baby crawls after her for a short while, then sits up, putting her small hands together, and looks at me.
Then the case falls away, and the facts and the arguments seem to all be a distraction. I am left wondering how a parent survives the horrific death of their child. And how they would find the strength to endure it, to still fight for what they believe is right, for this idea of justice for their slain son. Tonight, our baby got upset because I took a toy away from her to get her ready for bedtime, and tears ran down her cheeks. Let me tell you, I am not a religious person, nor am I the type of person that would overly indulge or spoil my child. But when I see those tears, I am ready to kneel down in front of whatever deity is convenient and beg forgiveness for my sins, if in exchange whatever higher power could take the sadness away from my little baby.
Now imagine what Fong Lee’s family is going through. Whatever you may think of this case, put yourself in the Lee’s family’s place and consider their perspective. They lost their son in a case full of contradictions, suspicious facts, and errors. The officer who killed their son, under investigation for numerous acts of excessive force especially against young men of color, is exonerated of charges. The judge, assuring them that they have time for lunch, does not bother to wait for them to return before announcing the verdict and locking the doors. Your son, your brother, has been shot eight times and there’s no bringing him back. And there seems like there will be no justice. Just imagine that. If you can.
Despite the devastation of losing their family member to violence and the prolonged agony of seeking justice through the justice system, the Lee family has been positive, strong, and courageous. At meetings, they make sure everyone has water and food, they ask how you’re doing, they ask about your family, they smile and try to remain upbeat and calm even when they are told the odds are against them. They are patient when conversations need to be translated into Hmong and English. They smile, they thank you for your involvement, they are positive and strong even though they are struggling against a system set up to protect the man who killed their son.
Local communities from all walks of life have been supportive of the Lee family and one amazing thing to come out of this is the solidarity people have shown across communities. Now is the time for national Asian American leadership and activists to step up. It’s time for the academics, intelligentsia, bloggers and reporters to write about and raise awareness around Fong Lee’s tragic death. It’s time for the Asian American politicians and political groups to make public statements of support and show the Lee family that they have an entire nation of people behind them. And it’s time for the Asian American poets, artists, rappers, and musicians to create work, to breath life into this movement and make sure Lee is remembered, and that this terrible tragedy is pondered beyond this time and place.
Information on the rally and press conference below.
Information on the rally and press conference below.
WHAT: Press Conference and Rally to announce the Lee family’s decision to appeal their wrongful death suit against the Minneapolis Police Department to the Supreme Court. The Lee family has retained the law firm Hilliard, Muñoz, Gonzales (http://hmglawfirm.com/) in the shooting death of their teenage son Fong Lee by
WHEN: Saturday, October 2, 1:00 p.m.
WHERE: Cityview Elementary School, where Fong Lee was killed.
WHO: This press conference is being organized by the Justice for Fong Lee Committee and the family of Fong Lee. Family members and Janelle Yang, the legal contact for the family, will be making statements about the appeal. Community organizations and leaders will also be making statements of support.
WHY: The family and community were shocked and angered by the 2009 verdict in their wrongful death suit as well as the district court’s recent denial for an appeal. They view these decisions as part of a growing pattern of police misconduct and lack of accountability in the Twin Cities. Under new representation from the firm Hilliard, Muñoz, Gonzales, the Lee family is appealing their wrongful death suit to the Supreme Court.
On July 22, 2006, Hmong teenager Fong Lee was with a group of friends riding bikes near the
In 2009 the family of Fong Lee brought a wrongful death lawsuit again the City of
The family has since appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for a new trial, which has been denied. Now, under the representation of Hilliard, Muñoz, and Gonzales, the family of Fong Lee is taking their case to the Supreme Court, in hopes that national attention will result in a new trial of this egregious police action.
Jason Andersen was first in the media’s eye with his shooting death of Fong Lee but he has remained a contentious member of the
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