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Hmong community protests outside Yreka courthouse over water restrictions


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Members of Siskiyou County's Hmong community rallied outside the county courthouse in Yreka on Tuesday over what they say is racist treatment by police and racist enforcement of water usage rights by the county.

An ordinance passed in May aimed at curtailing illegal marijuana grows prohibits water trucks and other vehicles from carrying over 100 gallons of water on certain county roads. Rally organizers say the roads selected, primarily in the rural, unincorporated communities of Butte Valley and Big Springs, unfairly target the Hmong community who reside there.

"The water affects everybody, not just me. To the white community that's out there - we'll keep fighting for our rights because that's our constitutional rights. Just like you and everyone else here," said rally speaker Tong Xiong.

Another rallying cry for the protest was over a Hmong man shot dead by police during the Lava Fire evacuation. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office says the man drew a weapon and fired at officers but many at the rally disputed that, asking for a release of the officer's body camera video.

"It's just very sad that all this racism, discrimination and social profiling has led to a death. This is the worst thing that could've happened. He didn't have to die," said rally attendee Mary Lee.

Cannabis is legal for recreational use in California, but Siskiyou County does not allow it to be grown commercially. Protesters noted that the water is also used for other basic necessities besides marijuana grow operations.

"We bathe in it, we use it for our kids, we use it for washing dishes. Pretty much everyday life out there. Stopping that or limiting it, with nowhere else to turn to get the 100 gallons is hard," Xiong said.

The penalty for driving a water truck on one of the specified county roads is a $100 fine. One member of the Hmong community in Siskiyou County is taking the protest a step further, as activist Zurg Xiong is going on a hunger strike that he says will last until the community's demands are met, or until he dies.

"I'm going on a hunger strike because [Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah] LaRue and the Board of Supervisors and everybody else have silenced us just like they always silenced us," he said. "It's time for people like me to rise up and speak. And the only way I can speak is through a hunger strike."

It's not the first protest held by the Hmong community outside the Yreka courthouse. The group also rallied in both June and May against what they feel is unfair treatment.

Supporters of the ordinance say the grows have a significant negative effect on the land and the waterways, and that the trucking of thousands of gallons of water could lead to wells going dry, particularly during a drought. This Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office has even taken to social media to openly ask marijuana growers, community members and outside agencies to help curb the environmental destruction.

"Our brother is gone. Why? Because he wanted to carve out a piece of the planet for his family? Because he answered the call to defend our community from the hellfire that we saw? That is why I am here," Zurg Xiong said.

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The ordinance states it is possible to get a permit from the county that would allow for the transport of more than 100 gallons of water.

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