Asian Americans in Northern California say their county and Sheriff's Department are engaged in a racist campaign to root them out, according to a new lawsuit.
The class action suit, filed in federal court on Wednesday, names both Siskiyou County and Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue as defendants, and it claims that both parties are engaged in large-scale harassment against Hmong residents.
This targeting is designed to drive a disfavored racial minority from the County and has its roots in anti-Asian racism in Siskiyou dating back to the 1800s, reads the suit, put forward by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The discrimination has taken the form of routine traffic stops, restricted access to water and liens designed to push Asians off their land, according to residents. The county's policies have disproportionately impacted Hmong marijuana farmers whose neighborhoods have been singled out, the complaint said.
The suit notes that Asians account for only 2.4% of the county's adult population, but they accounted for more than 28% of Sheriff's Department traffic stops in 2021. The county population is close to 45,000, of which approximately 85% are white.
County data shows that the Sheriff's Department stops Asian Americans during the day, when a driver's race is more readily visible, at a nearly 60% higher rate than during the night. Clashes with the county began when Hmong immigrants began to dominate marijuana farming in the area. Another lawsuit filed last year resulted in an injunction against the county for allegedly putting water restrictions in place to target them. County officials denied the allegations.
The county limits the use of marijuana in California. Residents suing the county allege farming cannabis was common until Asians started doing it.
The lawsuit said that the policing of marijuana farms has been enacted since the Hmong population started to grow the plant, and the new laws are almost exclusively enforced in Asian-dominated areas of the county.
The lawsuit states that when the county issued a new ordinance prohibiting the transport of over 100 gallons of water without a permit, they only policed it on the roads around Asian American neighborhoods.
The lawsuit alleges that racial profiling meant that Hmong residents who weren't growers were subject to more stops even though they were intended to target cannabis farmers. The everyday lives of Hmong residents have been affected by this, because they struggle to access water for their basic needs.
Asian Americans began speaking out last summer after a Hmong man was shot and killed in the area by police at a wildfire evacuation checkpoint.
The suit claims that the county and sheriff of Hmong American population have been openly hostile to them despite the fact that the lower-income Hmong American population has grown in Siskiyou County over the last few years.
Like some of their most vocal constituents, they view Asian Americans as a monolithic group of which every single person is part of a violent drug cartel and blame the County s widespread cannabis cultivation on Asian Americans in explicitly racialized terms, according to the complaint.
In a statement to The Sacramento Bee last year, LaRue said marijuana growers were hostile to first responders during fire evacuations, and that Siskiyou County and LaRue did not respond to requests for comment.
He said it prevented fire fighters from going in there because the firefighters didn't feel very safe due to some of the comments that were made. It's kind of a mess. Hmong plaintiffs say they have been treated like outsiders.
The lawsuit says that the Hmong attendees were invited to be at a public meeting in 2015, calling for a show of hands from the Hmong residents on the issues presented, and then calling for a vote of those County residents present, as if the Hmong people were outsiders.