On September 16, 2020, Ee Lee, a Hmong American mother who was unhoused and mentally ill, was attacked, raped, and killed in a park.
Shortly after the body was found, the Hmong American Womens Association held a vigil.
The assault was recorded on video while 11 teenagers looked on.
The parent of one of the witnesses/viewers gave video of the incident to the police, leading to the arrests of Kamare Lewis and Kevin Spencer, four months after the killing.
The alleged murderers showed no remorse.
The case is still in the courts.
In the aftermath of the gangrape-murder, information emerged that Ee Lee had been charged with homicide of her daughter, but was found mentally incompetent to stand trial, in 2007.
To get the raw details of the trial, read the Criminal Complaint document that outlines the charges, and also see the “Inmate Search” section below, and click on the “case” links.
People on social media have asked, repeatedly, why this story wasn’t covered very much.
Some attribute it to the race of the attackers, who are African American. A right-wing Asian hypothesis claims that the media are afraid to mention the race of the attackers, because it would lead to complaints of stereotyping or fanning anti-Black sentiment. This may be true, because, traditionally, TV news media was quick to attribute crimes to Black people.
Some attribute it to the fact she was a woman and she was Asian. This is somewhat specious, because other stories about Asian women, like Michelle Go, have gone ultra-viral. However, few stories about Asians make it to the national news. It’s “feast or famine”: a few stories get hyped up, while most are ignored.
I suspect it’s a lot less pleasant that these three visible factors. This is not only the story of a Hmong Asian woman, but of someone who has a criminal past, severe mental illness, and living unhoused, in a state that’s hostile to Hmong people.
Additionally, the “model minority” trope creates social pressure both within and outside Asian American communities to hide, deny, or ignore people who don’t fit the stereotype: criminals, drug addicts, poor people, homeless people, and mentally ill people.
The “model minority” trope also influences the news media to cast people as “good people” or “bad people”, and when an Asian person isn’t a “good person”, they are a “bad person” and forgotten, or demonized.
People tend to seek out a single cause, or maybe a pair of causes, to understand oppression. In Lee, however, I see more intersections of potential oppression, or resistance to sympathy.
|Not regarded as being part of “normal society”. Dehumanized. Targeted for crimes.
|“Weird” or unusual behavior marks a person as “not all there.” Significant intersection with being unhoused, and also being a person of color.
|Subhuman, alien culture, foreign, “not one of us”, “not American”. Intersects with being Hmong and poor.
|Working class community without much power. Longstanding hostility from the wider Wisconsin society. Also, not all Asians consider Southeast Asians as “important”.
|Significant intersection with being Asian. Stereotyped as a prostitute, consents to sex, rape is normalized in patriarchal rape culture.
|Charged with Homicide
|People with criminal records who become victims are treated as if they have no rights.
Crime Prevention Ideas
Many of the commenters suggested self-defense, to the point of advocating for arming the victim. These commenters probably didn’t know the entire story, because the meme-makers were hiding information to make for a neater story of “right vs. wrong”, and thus a more viral meme.
The problem, of course, is that this victim had a mental illness, and had killed before, so they would not be able to get a gun, legally. Nor could we trust them to use the gun safely, given their past.
I think this murder could have been prevented if we had a stronger social safety net.
People with Mental Illness Need Health Care and Housing
Ee Lee was a target because she didn’t have a home, and was living in the park. Unhoused people existing in public spaces, are easy targets, and small women are at even more danger.
Mentally ill, unhoused people cannot be committed without consent, but the system needs to figure out how to convince them to go into housing – by having actual supportive housing rather than temporary shelters or even tiny homes.
Communities of Color need More Culturally Competent Mental Health Services
The shortage or lack of culturally specific mental health services is a longstanding problem. It’s entirely possible that all the parties involved have some kind of problem. It’s not normal to watch someone get gang raped and beat senseless, to the point of near-death.
Attackers Needed to be Evaluated for Racism, Mental Illness
None of the media reports or attorneys or DA are raising the attackers’ mental health. This is partly because they don’t want to find the accused incompetent to stand trial, and basically get them off without prison time.
As a society, we should explore possible connections between mental illness, extreme racism, and Asian-ness as a trigger to inspire someone toward violence. (See: Is extreme racism a mental illness? Poussaint.)
People with Criminality in their Past or Present Still Deserve Justice
The fact Ee Lee had a criminal record should not affect how much justice she receives for her murder. Someone can have a shady past, and then suffer a crime against them; in fact, it’s probably more likely they will suffer a crime against them, if their enemies know.
Search for the inmates at Milwaukee County: http://www.inmatesearch.mkesheriff.org/
The Criminal Complaint has details about the attack: https://safetywalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Criminal-Complaint-Lewis-Kamare-R-Multiple-Parties.pdf
The following videos talk about the case. This first one is unusual – it’s by Keiki-Alexander Bailey, a photographer who teaches photography and also has been homeless, and has worked in homeless services, and was Lee’s friend.
https://twitter.com/dotorii_muk/status/1570804653151121410 – this page was inspired by this tweet.