Tradition and happiness are what we know as Americans this time of year. When we sat down at the Thanksgiving table and joined our families, we were indebted to all that has come to us in life. Over break, however, Midwesterners were forced to reflect on a tragedy I cannot understand.
For many years I have spent my Thanksgiving break in Wisconsin on deer-hunting trips with my closest family and friends. These have been some of the best experiences of my life.
This year obligations kept me away from the serenity of the backwoods in the Midwest. Thousands of others still took to their stands, scanning high and low for the big buck. The hunting began on opening day, Nov. 20, with anticipation and high hopes. It ended a week later with grief and tragedy.
Chai Vang, a Minneapolis resident, came up to Wisconsin to hunt for the season. He became lost on private property belonging to a group of hunters. The confrontation that ensued is muddled in confusion, but in the end six people lost their lives in an avoidable dispute.
Fueled by an apparent verbal argument, Vang took a rifle and opened fire on the group of Wisconsin hunters who owned the property. The presumption is that he was cursed and berated, and some of the words attacked his Asian-American ethnicity.
My family's cabin is 30 miles from where this shooting took place. Many of my family members know or knew of the victims. In a geographic region where small towns and communities thrive, it is commonplace for these people to know their neighbors well. It is also not unusual for them to know even those a few cities away.
When I spoke with my father the other evening, we couldn't move our conversation past this malice. Rather than having a pleasant recollection for me of what I had missed on a successful hunt, he poured his soul into describing the sadness that hovered over the community like a black cloud. A close friend visited the family hunting cabin days after the tragedy. He was also very close to the victims.
The friend saw one of the survivors in the hospital just days after it happened. It was also a day before the survivor became the last casualty.
"He said that there was a verbal exchange, and a few racial things were said back and forth," my dad relayed.
After the hunter (Vang) was walking away, a few more things were said. He reached down and aimed his weapon at the party.
Vang opened fire, shooting the man in the neck. He continued shooting at the other present hunters, killing or wounding each.
"They radioed back to their cabin, telling other members of their group about what was happening (when they were asking the man to leave)," my dad continued. "Two of them, a father and his daughter, were riding up on an ATV."
Vang took aim and sniped the unarmed hunters off the vehicle. After fatally shooting the two, a wounded hunter fired back. Vang fled to the woods and was arrested just hours later.
Last year, there were nearly 7,500 hate crimes in the United States, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting statistics. There is no pardon for Vang's actions. He will get what he deserves in trial, and many would say he deserves worse. But why must it come to this?
I can't help but to put myself in the situation, on each side. If I found a man on my property, lost or otherwise, I would help him find his way back to where he was.
Say I'm the lost hunter. Confronted by property owners, am I berated, or do they treat me as I treat the lost hunter? As a Caucasian, would the party treat me differently? Maybe, maybe not. Thousands of circumstances could come into play. Either way, I know that I would not open fire on anyone. I don't care what insults come my way.
Hunting. Racism. Millions of Americans hunt. A tragic number judge people by the color of their skin. For years, people have decried to end both. While I believe in the sport of hunting, I do not believe in faceless ignorance. Disagree with me on hunting if you will, but do not leave me as I look to a more severe issue.
For years, cultures have been embattled with each other. Then we build upon this great country, a nation that is the "melting pot," a land of opportunity, freedom and equality. In the aftermath of another tragedy based on prejudice, we find that in trying to move forward positively, so many still are thinking backwards.
Imagine finding out that part of your family was not going to be at the Thanksgiving table. How would you explain to your family, to others, to yourself, that you have an empty plate at the table because a man shot your parent over a verbal exchange, a disagreement perpetuated by race? An empty chair, lost over a tree stand.
Keep in your hearts the victims and their families. And keep in your thoughts and prayers an end to the ignorance that is racism.
Adam Ebner is a sophomore technical journalism major. He is also a regional reporter for the Collegian.