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Siskiyou County water ordinances spark claims of racial profiling and discrimination

Some Siskiyou county residents are claiming they have witnesses racial profiling and discrimination following recent actions from the County and Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office says their message is being twisted and they plan to bring in additional support to aid in translation.

Posted: May 26, 2021 4:42 PM
Updated: May 26, 2021 6:18 PM

BIG SPRINGS, Calif. — Following recent ordinances from Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors that prohibit the transfer of water along certain county roads without a permit, ripple effects have been seen throughout the community. The emergency ordinances were passed in an effort to crack down on illegal marijuana grow operations.

“We essentially have about 6,000 people that live in one particular area, Shasta Vista,” said Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue, “What's primarily occurring there is illegal commercial cannabis.”

Some of the roads included in the ordinance surround the Shasta Vista subdivision.

“I think he's trying to, run everybody off,” said Russell Mathis, a land owner in the Shasta Vista subdivision, “kind of like they did in the early 1800s when they didn't like settlers — dam up the creek, run them out. That's basically what I think he's doing here by drying up the water. Nobody can survive.”

Shortly after the ordinances were passed, the Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook, calling on businesses to stop providing supplies and services to illegal grow sites, stating that “delivering supplies and providing services to illegal commercial cannabis sites in Siskiyou county is prohibited.”

Some businesses in Siskiyou County, specifically ones surrounding Big Springs near the Shasta Vista subdivision, tell NewsWatch 12 that the Facebook post has fanned the flames of racism, saying they are seeing community members racially profile Asian Americans in the community because the Shasta Vista subdivision is known to have a large Asian American population.

“I feel we . . . we feel pressure, but I just don't want to judge people because they come in and they're of Asian descent,” said Michael Parker, an employee at a local hardware store.

Following the initial post on Facebook, the Sheriff’s Office added an update, stating that the request for support from businesses pertains to stopping the delivery of supplies and providing services on-site, where it is reasonably linked to the illegal commercial cannabis activity, saying “in no way does this request attempt to prevent in-person purchases at stores.” The Sheriff’s Office also posted a clarification with a similar statement in the comments.

“It’s very specific. It's not delivering pizza and it's not turning away people at the door. If they're Asian . . . that's just crazy talk,” said Sheriff LaRue. “That sounds racist to me that someone would even suggest that.”


PART I: Siskiyou County water ordinances send ripple effect through community; legal action in process


Parker says regardless of the updated clarification on the original Facebook post, they are seeing racial profiling of the Asian American community continue.

“They're scared to come in. If they go leave the parking lot, they get pulled over. If they have anything that has to do with their business, even locals that don't grow are being pulled over,” said Parker.

Traffic stops are a specific concern from some community members, with some reporting that Asian Americans are being pulled over at disproportional rates.

“I think they're profiling. We've seen some people get pulled over for no apparent reason that we're Asian descent, you know, it seems like it is,” said Parker.

"We're not making traffic stops based upon age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. We don't know any of that stuff. We just go off  speed for example, and make traffic stops," said Sheriff LaRue, "In the Shasta Vista area we have a presence out there to monitor the water use, make sure there's no illegal water trucks that are taking groundwater from some of these farmer farmers and taking them into the grows, if you will, so we have a presence out there and we've been making quite a bit of traffic stops but that's not uncommon. Traffic stops are just a normal thing. They're always based upon some type of violation. We don't just pull people over."

NewsWatch 12 spoke with Peter Thao who is a community activist who lives in Siskiyou county but doesn’t farm, or live in the Shasta Vista subdivision. He says he still feels eyes on him in the community because he is Asian.

“Mentally, emotionally, psychologically, because I am part of them and they are a part of me. As an Asian, we are very family-oriented so we stick together and we help each other. Regardless of the situation,” said Thao.

“It's just, if you're Asian, you're connected to the community, you're connected. You're guilty. End of the story,” said Russell Mathis, a land owner in the Shasta Vista subdivision.

Some comments on the Sheriff’s office Facebook page have been targeted at Asian Americans in the community, with one man writing: “We don’t need your kind in Siskiyou county. Go back to your country.”

The same man wrote more comments, saying “She looks like she is from Asia. We don’t need their kind in Siskiyou.” The comments have since been deleted.

Sheriff LaRue says that their message is being twisted, and that comments on the Facebook post are being spun in a direction that’s not true.

NewsWatch 12 asked the Sheriff about any plans to respond to reports of racism or racial profiling within the community.

“Is there any plan to take action against that to either a) make sure it doesn’t continue or b) prevent it from happening in the first place?” asked Alicia Rubin, reporter with NewsWatch 12.

“Yeah, no, that's a good question,” said Sheriff LaRue, “From the Sheriff's Department, we do not condone racism. Racism is horrible."

LaRue tells NewsWatch 12 that there are efforts to bring in additional community resources, including translators to help with the language barrier.

Thao says the Asian American community is open for a conversation.

“We have an open-door policy to talk to the Sheriff, the Board of Supervisors, we are more than ready to talk to them,” said Thao.

Right now, Thao believes the local Asian community is looking into legal action but he’s not aware of any lawsuit that’s been filed. NewsWatch 12 reached out to the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s office to learn if there have been any discrimination-based lawsuits filed. At this time, we are still waiting for a response.

A lawyer that NewsWatch 12 spoke with, who is currently representing a Siskiyou County farmer in a battle surrounding water usage on cannabis, says the situation isn’t as simple as it may appear.

“I've talked with several representatives of the Hmong community, and they tell me that historically, the Hmongs, as families and groups, would just retreat into the jungle. That’s their tactic for dealing with strong central powers, is evasion,” said Paul Minasian, an agricultural and water rights attorney out of California, “We brought them to this country, but I wonder if they ever really accepted that as a citizen or a non-resident you were invited to the country, you get rights.”

NewsWatch 12 reached out to the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s office to learn if there have been any discrimination-based lawsuits filed. At this time, we are still waiting for a response.

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