Post Archives: On the Shooting of Map Kong, Media Bias, Police Force, the Star Tribune, and Due Process

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


This article was originally written for the YOMYOMF blog which was closed approximately two years ago and is being re-posted here for archival purposes.


The morning of March 17th, outside of a McDonalds in Burnsville, MN, Map Kong, a Cambodian American, was shot during an incident with five officers. The details of the shooting are still being uncovered as an investigation is under way, but all accounts of what led up to the shooting are about the same: Someone called that there was a suspicious man sitting in a car in the parking lot yelling and jumping up and down in his seat. When the police arrived, a total of five officers approached his car. What happened next, and what drove police to shoot and kill Map Kong–this is the unknown.

Accounts say that Map Kong had a knife and that he was waving it around in his car. Whether or not that is the case, or it was another object, we’re to believe by Map Kong’s death, that the police felt threatened, and under that premise, we’re to believe that the shooting of Map Kong was justified.

But we can’t make that statement.

The police scanner audio between the time that the officers approached the car and the time that shots were fired isn’t as audible as other portions of the recording. While the officers involved all had body cameras and they were operational, that video hasn’t been released to the public. All other video, with at least one other source coming from a car dealership across the street, is being reviewed but hasn’t been made public either.

If we try to make a judgment on whether or not the police were justified in killing Map Kong based only on the facts of what we know, we can’t. There just isn’t enough corroborating information on either side. At the same time, even if all of the video were to be released, the question of whether or not five officers could, and should have, subdued one man (who may have had a knife) versus taking his life and killing him–that’s something which no amount of video and facts can answer alone and is a conversation within a larger dialogue about the relationships between police and individuals of color.

News Organizations Should Report On The Facts

As I’ve been looking into what led up to the shooting and the shooting itself–reading all of the coverage I could find on it, the medical examiner’s report, the official police statement, listening to the police scanner recordings, and trying to get information from the Burnsville police department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension–I found an article from local newspaper the Star Tribune which included a paragraph that Map Kong had a “criminal history” with at least seven arrests since 1997:

“Kong has a criminal history, with at least seven arrests since 1997 on suspicion of narcotics possession, firearm violations and domestic violence, records show.”

In all of the coverage I had read up to that point from other local news organizations, no other article had mentioned this piece of information, and no information is known on if the officers knew of Map Kong’s previous arrests when they approached him in the parking lot (and the relevance of this, even if known, can be debated).

While it is just one paragraph I couldn’t help but ask myself some questions:

What made the reporters look into the criminal history of Map Kong? Was it on their own? Did they receive that information from the police department and then look more into his past?

Why did they feel it was necessary to add it to their article? How come they only provided a snapshot of his past arrests (e.g. when was his last arrest and what was it for)? How come they didn’t report on the officers and any conduct (good or bad) in their past arrests for balanced coverage?

Didn’t this piece of information swing bias in favor of the police department, in ways suggesting that Map Kong was a criminal who was justifiably shot and killed by police officers? Isn’t it the role of news organizations and newspapers like the Star Tribune to not be biased in their reporting?

I’ve reached out to the two reporters of the article on multiple occasions for insight into my questions, but have not received a response from either of them. I’ve reached out to their editor asking the same questions, leaving voice mail, my callback number, and a separate email, and days later have not received a response from him either.

Their decision has been no comment.

No transparency.

And no defense of their reporting and what led them to their decisions.

It Matters Because Everyone Deserves Due Process

I believe in the power of the press to investigate, uncover, and bring to light the facts of a story under the protection of the First Amendment, and that there is a basic cannon to follow for journalists: Be fair and objective. Report facts pertinent to the story and withhold those that can do harm and are not applicable. Disclose conflicts of interest. And one of the most important–serve the public.

If one of the roles of journalism is to help give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, then the Star Tribune has, at the very least, done a disservice to Map Kong and his family (and individuals who have already made the decision that Map Kong was justifiably killed, have used those facts from the article to back up their own opinions).

As an Asian American and a person of color who shares inequities with other individuals in communities of color, I know that the system can sometimes be stacked against us. People discriminate. They have their stereotypes. And there are some in this world who don’t look at us as human beings and don’t feel our lives hold the same worth as others.

That’s why this matters to me.

Even if you were to believe Map Kong wasn’t a great person (and I didn’t know him), or that he did threaten the officers– he should be afforded the same dignity and respect as anyone else from the reporting news agencies who can play a part in shaping the courtroom of public opinion.

When looking at his death, we should ask the question of if police used excessive force, because that question isn’t just a privilege for those we deem credible, or under the age of eighteen, or that we would defend as people we would want to associate with, or who are of any specific color, ethnicity, gender, or religion.

Those same rights and dignities are for everyone, and they should be extended to Map Kong as well.

For those interested in reading and following my posts on the shooting of Map Kong, you can do so by going here which will pull up all current posts to date.