MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission listened to members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community share their experiences in a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
"There has been a rise in anti-Asian incidents and crimes nationally," said Ron Kuramoto, the president of the Japanese American Citizens League of Wisconsin.
A recent report from Stop AAPI Hate found 6,603 hate incidents were reported to the organization from March 19, 2020, to March 31, 2021. It found more than 65 percent of those reports fell under the verbal harassment category.
"My husband experienced it himself first hand working in our front yard one day last summer," said Commissioner Mayhoua Moua. "Those boys were actually making comments at him, and when he caught on to what they were saying, he actually heard that said, 'you brought the virus to us.'"
"We have heard of incidents occur as a result at businesses, to property owned by businesses that were on their properties, or vandalism of sorts that happened to the storefronts and store buildings of businesses," said Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Dr. Maysee Herr. "So we have heard of those types of incidents not only here in Milwaukee but around Wisconsin."
Two Milwaukee Police Department inspectors on the call said they have not seen an increase in reports, but said they do understand incidents may go unreported.
The panelists offered steps the commission could take to protect and stand with the AAPI community, including more partnerships with the city, being more sensitive to community trauma, and having the commission serve as a first point of contact for people to file reports.
"We are demanding we take the threat of reporting all hate incidents much more seriously than we have in the past," said Pardeep Kaleka, the executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. "We must center the voice of those impacted and empower individuals and organizations to define the narrative."
The commission established an online form and hotline for reporting incidents of hate or discrimination.