Asian Americans in Dane Co. reeling after deadly attack at spas, amid rise in hate crimes

A Dane Co. board supervisor plans to introduce a resolution condemning hate against Asian Americans.
Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 10:33 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Asian Americans in Dane Co. say they are “in shock” after a Tuesday night shooting in the Atlanta area, which killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women.

The deadly shooting comes amid growing reports of attacks against Asian Americans nationwide. The group Stop AAPI Hate reports 3,795 hate incidents over the past year.

“This really hits home because all the increased rates of hate crimes and discrimination could be against my mom, my brother, grandparent, best friend,” Elena Haasl, who is part Filipino, said.

The Associated Press reports, the Atlanta shooting suspect had told police that the attack was not racially motivated and that he claimed to have a “sex addiction.”

“It was a lot to take on, a lot to stomach,” Megan Wittman, who is half Filipino, said. “The thought of six Asian women who actually died at the hands of gun violence… It brings home the fact that Asian and Asian American women, whether it be in Atlanta, whether it be in Wisconsin... truly aren’t safe from any types of violence and harm.”

Both said they have witnessed racism firsthand, especially during the pandemic. “Somebody might say, ‘This virus comes from China, but I’m so glad you’re an Asian that’s safe to be around,’” Wittman said. Haasl said their mother heard racial slurs while in her backyard.

Peng Her, the CEO of the Hmong Institute, said stress in the Asian-American community is higher than he’s ever seen. He shared stories from community members: “When their family members go to work or go grocery shopping, they’re always looking over their shoulder, making sure someone’s not following them, someone’s not going to attack them.”

Her, as well as other Dane Co. leaders, said they believe hate crimes against Asians are happening in Dane County, though cases aren’t being reported. Stop AAPI Hate also said that of the cases nationwide, those reported to the group “represent only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur.”

“For Asian Americans, we’re taught to be very respectful of authorities, and so we tend not to complain too much,” Her explained. “Culturally they don’t try to make problems or issues so they don’t report to the authorities. Secondly, they try to fix the problem within their own communities by themselves.”

Elected officials have responded. Haasl, Dane County’s District 5 Supervisor, is preparing to introduce a resolution to the board Thursday night.

The resolution reads, in part: “Dane County is not unscathed by the ugliness of blatant anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.” It mentioned a racist message written on a downtown Madison sidewalk last year.

The resolution continues, “It is critical to acknowledge and condemn the targeting of hate.”

Haasl said, “It really affected me, and I wanted to use my privilege with my identity and as my role as a county supervisor to shed light on the issue and to bring the issue in front of people and say, ‘This is happening.’”

Once the resolution is introduced Thursday night, the board will respond by voting on the measure.

Other leaders like Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes condemned the anti-Asian violence in Atlanta. In a statement he wrote, in part: “For the eight souls we lost yesterday, and for the generations of people deserving a world free of hatred and bigotry, we must stand in solidarity with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and work to rid our society of the racism and white supremacy that has fostered and perpetuated this violence.”

President Joe Biden also tweeted Wednesday: “We don’t yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight. The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They must stop.”

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