Alleged hate crime incident in Stevens Point one of several in community, police and local official say

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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) -- An alleged racially-motivated harassment incident in Stevens Point is the latest out of several incidents that Portage County supervisor Ntxhais Chai Moua tells NewsChannel 7 has been told of personally since March.

The Stevens Point Police Department is recommending charges with a hate-crime enhancer for a suspect in custody, after a racially-charged incident in Stevens Point last week--the first that was directly reported to city police this year.

Police responded to a call of a disturbance at a grocery store, where it was reported customers were confronted by a man and were called names and harassed for wearing masks because of their race.

"The suspect that was arrested admitted that he chose these people to make the comments to harass because of their ethnicity," Lt. Dana Williams with the SPPD told NewsChannel 7.

According to Moua who says she spoke with police following the grocery store incident, this is the sixth racially-motivated incident in public areas directed towards the Asian-American community that she's personally been informed of in Stevens Point since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began making headlines in Wisconsin.

However, noting the Junction City hate crime targeting the Hmong community a few years back, Moua points out this type of behavior in Portage County isn't new.

"With the recent pandemic, folks are seeing an increase in incidents," she noted. "Anti-Asian crimes in Wisconsin is nothing new...we can’t just blame all the racist things that are happening now on just this pandemic. This already existed in our community for black and brown folks."

"We as a community are not going to tolerate harassment, discrimination for anyone within Stevens Point or anywhere for that matter, and that they should feel safe coming to us and making that report," Lt. Williams said.

The suspect, whose name has not been released by police, is facing a recommended charge with a hate crime enhancer.

Racially-motivated incidents have been reported around the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which first began spreading in the Chinese province of Hubei and which has been referred to by the President as the "Chinese virus." In Marathon County, law enforcement were alerted to incidents in March. Sheriff Scott Parks told NewsChannel 7 on Tuesday afternoon that victims in those incidents had ultimately opted out of pressing charges because racially-motivated actions had not continued in the area. At the time, both Wausau police and the Sheriff's office alerted the community that they would not tolerate racially-motivated actions and encouraged victims to make reports.

When reached for comment, the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison pointed to a virtual event being held Wednesday by the Wisconsin advocacy group Freedom Inc., aimed at addressing anti-Asian violence during COVID-19. A link for the event can be found at the bottom of this article.

For Moua, she says this is why Portage County is working to establish a diversity affairs committee to address racially-motivated incidents in the community.

"We actually have to come together now as a community to find solutions to make central Wisconsin a more welcoming place for black and brown and marginalized communities," she noted.