As 16-year-old Dylan Yang awaits sentencing in the February 2015 fatal stabbing of a 13-year-old boy, hundreds of marchers from around the state and beyond gathered in downtown Wausau May 31 in a show of solidarity.
“Save Our Children: A community peace march for healing and reflecting” was organized by Hmong leaders in the Twin Cities and was intended to raise awareness for their anti-bullying message and to "bring the community together." While organizers veered away from calling the event a rally, it would be hard to describe the scene as anything but, with speakers drumming up the crowd and starting chants.
Yang was convicted in March in the fatal stabbing of Isaiah Powell in a fight between rival groups of friends. To date, friends and family members have sent more than 150 letters asking for leniency from the judge who will sentence Yang, who was 15 at the time of the stabbing. Many are uncomfortable with a teenage boy being tried—and punished—as an adult, something Wisconsin law requires. Some family members have said Yang was repeatedly bullied in the months leading up to the incident.
At the event, the crowd held a moment of silence and released balloons not only for Yang, but also to remember Powell. A table adorned with flowers and framed photos of Powell was set up near the stage.
Large cheers erupted when TouGer Xiong, the event’s organizer and emcee, asked the crowd how many people were from La Crosse, and St. Paul. TouGer Xiong told the audience that the case underscores the need for fair justice for all races. “I think one of the goals is to highlight institutional racism and how that configures into the Dylan Yang case and its outcome,” Xiong told the crowd. “As much as this is about bullying, it’s also about racism and that needs to be addressed.”
The anti-bullying message resonated with Ethan Yang, 19, of Wausau, who attended school with Dylan Yang. He said bullying on the basis of race and economic position happened a lot when he was in school. “If they don’t feel safe at school, they don’t feel like they’re safe anywhere,” he says.
Maiyia Xiong, 32 of Wausau, says the case affected her because she was raised on the idea that other Hmong people are her brothers and sisters. “He could be my brother, or my relative,” Xiong says.
Marchers later echoed that sentiment, shouting “I am Dylan Yang” as they marched past the courthouse and jail, where Yang awaits his July 12 sentencing.
Yang could be forced to wait longer to learn his sentence. His new attorney, Harry Hertel of Eau Claire, has not yet received the defense case files from Yang's former attorney, Jay Kronenwetter. Hertel replaced Kronenwetter last month.
At a June 15 hearing, Hertel will ask Judge LaMont Jacobson to compel Kronenwetter to turn over the files, but might not have time to thoroughly examine them in time for Yang's sentencing. Hertel then might ask for a delay to better prepare.
TouGer Xiong says he spoke with Yang recently. Xiong listed a number of those he said failed Yang, including the DA’s office, Yang’s attorney, the media and the police.
“The community treated him as a cold-blooded gangster, rather than a human being,” Xiong shouted to the crowd. And the crowd cheered wildly.