Water, Weed, and Racism – ACLU Comments on Siskiyou County ‘Discrimination’

Drop Falling into Water ca. 2000
Drop Falling into Water ca. 2000

By Mathew Seibert

SISKIYOU COUNTY, CA – Siskiyou County civil rights groups charge they have identified “intentional discrimination” among law enforcement actions in this northern California county.

An article written by The Guardian News explained the county’s major conflict over water rights and how Asian drivers are being stopped at massively disproportionate rates.

Siskiyou County officials argue the county’s ban on transporting large amounts of water on certain roads is to protect the natural groundwater and drive out illegal marijuana grows throughout the countryside.

The local Hmong Americans claim their access to water during drought and fire season is destructive for the community and region.

The Guardian News explained the Hmong Americans believe these set rules are part of a broader pattern of discrimination and harassment by law enforcement officials.

According to the ACLU and Asian Law Caucus, Asians make up just 2.6 percent of the population in the county.

However, they accounted for 27.4 percent of all traffic stops in 2021 and more than 61 percent of the people the sheriff referred for prosecutions of the water ordinance in the county.

“Based on the records produced by the county, it appears the sheriff rarely ever refers white people to the district attorney for violating the water transportation ordinance or water extraction ordinance,” said the ACLU.

The county’s water ordinance laws are focused on the 1,600 acre plot, where more than 1,000 Hmong Americans live.

The discrimination among the law enforcement officials against the Hmong Americans reveal the injustice happening in Siskiyou County, said the ACLU and civil rights groups.

County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRule defended the water measures explaining they are an effective tool in a battle against marijuana cultivation sites that dry up the land. He told the Guardian News that there are more than 1,700 grows in the community.

“We don’t target any people. We target crime. It’s unfortunate that this is sort of the card that’s being played,” said LaRule.

However, residents of the county say that the actions of law enforcement are discriminating against an entire community. The Guardian News article explained that people are routinely dehydrated, can shower only once a week, and struggle with depression from their animals dying.

Civil rights groups argue the restrictions on the import of water to the county and the targeting of the Asian community is an effort one attorney called, “Jim Crow Racism.”

The Guardian article explained last fall a federal judge temporarily blocked the county from enforcing the water laws, finding that they have the “practical effect of cutting off the water supply to a minority community that has recently been the target of racial prejudice.”

Hmong residents claimed that when they moved into the area, stores refused to sell them basic goods, landlords declined to rent to them and neighbors flipped them off as they walked throughout the community.

The ACLU revealed in a brief to the court that law enforcement painted the Hmong Americans as “foreigners and criminals,” noting a comment made by former sheriff arguing it was “too bad” that the county’s Hmong American residents “didn’t use their ingenuity, intelligence and skills to engage in something lawful.”

The water laws, said the ACLU, increased violence throughout Siskiyou County as residents have “brandished weapons at (Hmong Americans), shot at their cars, stolen their belongings,” told them to “go back where they came from,” and threatened to burn down Mount Shasta Vista.

Meanwhile law enforcement continues to treat the Hmong Americans unfairly, said the ACLU.

The county has asked the judge to lift the injunction on the water laws, and said it would enforce the laws in the entire county rather than in select areas.


About The Author

Mathew is a student enrolled at California State University of Long Beach. I also grew up here in Long Beach California. He aspires to join the military right after he graduates. After his service, he is interested in a career in federal law enforcement or the fire department.

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