“Why does it have to be specifically hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islanders? Why can’t it just be condemning all hate crimes?” – West Allis alderman Tracy Stefanski
Somehow condemning all hate in West Allis, Wisconsin, has been twisted into hate in some corners – at least if you read stories on local television websites.
The West Allis License and Health Committee passed an amended resolution to condemn all hate crimes against people of any background this week, but the anti-hate vote is being trashed in the media by a fellow alderman.
The controversy started when West Allis Ald. Angelito Tenorio put forth a resolution to condemn hate crimes against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. Ald. Tracy Stefanski then offered a counter resolution that included Tenorio’s concerns but expanded it to also condemn hatred against all ethnic groups.
“We have for too long in this country divided people by groups,” Tracy Stefanski said at the meeting where the resolutions were debated. “We are not groups. We are human beings. We need to stand up and say all hate crimes are bad.”
You can see Tenorio’s resolution here. See the text of Tracy Stefanski’s resolution here; it’s titled, “RESOLUTION CONDEMNING VIOLENCE AGAINST MINORITIES OF ALL FACTIONS OF SOCIETY AND SOCIETY AS A WHOLE.”
In part, it reads, “WHEREAS, for far too long, minority Americans have been the target of xenophobic, anti-Semitic and disenfranchising policies, labor exploitation, hate crimes, and systemic racism in the United States 3; and WHEREAS, the use of racist rhetoric, especially as it intensified these past two years, has resulted in unprecedented destruction by domestic terrorist groups. The violence against minority and minority business owners is at a record high, at times with complete unrecoverable loss.”
This was turned into a point of controversy.
Tracy Stefanski’s Resolution
Tracy Stefanski’s resolution passed with Tenorio opposing it and Mayor Dan Devine speaking out against it; Tenorio then accused one of the aldermen of racism in interviews with the news media.
“I think its really important to name specifically what is happening to the Asian-American Pacific Islander community, to condemn what is happening,” Tenorio said in the meeting of the West Allis License and Health Committee on April 7, 2021. He mentioned the shootings in the Atlanta area of massage workers and others, most of whom were Asian.
Authorities said in a news conference that they don’t have evidence that the killer was motivated by the race of the victims but rather was motivated by a sex addiction. Stefanski pointed out that there was another mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, a short time later, and he condemned all hate crimes. The Boulder victims were white.
“This country is a better place. Better than many other countries in this world,” said Ald. Vincent Vitale, who supported Stefanski’s amended resolution. “We need to unify. I don’t care where you came from.”
You can watch the debate here; it starts at about 50 minutes in.
Ald. Suzzette Grisham told Tenorio that she did not think Tracy Stefanski’s measure was “insensitive” but rather was a “point of discussion… I think we need to denounce hate across the board.” She said aldermen shouldn’t look at this “as a tug of war” in which one person is valued over another. She added to Tenorio, “I support you and I also support and denounce any other hate that’s taking place in our community.”
Mayor Devine said that Anti-Asian hate crimes are increasing. “It’s the thing that needs our attention,” he said. He suggested that aldermen pass Tenorio’s resolution and then take on the “broader issue” later, but they chose to pass Stefanski’s resolution instead.
Tenorio told his fellow aldermen that they were being “reactionary.” He said that their action was “tone deaf and hurtful. We’re hurting right now.”
Ald. Dan Roadt brought up the sheriff’s comments in Atlanta that “these were sex crimes, not hate crimes. If they would have been a bunch of horses there, there would have been six horses killed. These are not hate crimes, they are crimes toward people who were working there.”
Tenorio responded that the victims “happened to be of Asian descent; you don’t think race has anything to do with that?” To Fox 6, he said later, “To me that language is so dangerous, and quite frankly racist and misogynistic to compare Asian-American women’s lives to horses’ lives.”
According to NBC News, six of the eight Atlanta-area victims were of Asian descent and “federal and local law enforcement investigators have yet to find concrete evidence that would be enough to build a federal hate crime case against the man accused.”
In an email to Stefanski before the vote, Tenorio wrote, “It’s really important to name racism against the AAPI community because recent hate crimes were targeted and specific towards the AAPI community. This violence isn’t happening to all humans. I encourage you to do your own research on this topic because there are a number of resources out there on why it’s important to name racism.”
He provided this article describing anti-Asian-American hate crimes and violence.
Stefanski responded, “Why does it have to be specifically hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islanders? Why can’t it just be condemning all hate crimes? I don’t understand why it has to be one group, it should be all humans.”
In a lengthy response to Tenorio, Stefanski began, “Before I get into my response, I want you to know that I am deeply saddened and disgusted by what happened in Atlanta, GA and my heart goes out to all of the victims and their family and friends. We also had a mass shooting in Boulder, CO a week later. I totally understand and sympathize with you and the purpose for your resolution, and I do think it is good to do. Hate crimes are terrible and totally unacceptable and they need to be condemned. I am very educated on hate crimes, as in case you did not know my wife is half African American, and I have family members that are also part of the LGBTQ community, so I am well aware and well-versed regarding hate crimes.”
He then added: “As you are well aware hate crimes have gone on for decades in this country and continue to go on in this country and the world today. It is not just against one group of people. It is against every human being no matter what so-called group they belong to according to the stats or even when the media reports it. This is a huge problem in our country as it is constantly keeping people placed in groups and continues to divide us as a country. This needs to end as we are all human beings no matter the color of our skin, our nationality, our religious beliefs, our sexual orientation, and many more based on how we are categorized. We ALL bleed the same color blood, we ALL breathe air together, and we ALL have a heartbeat. Until we stop classifying people into groups, categories, or however else it is done the division will remain.”
Tracy Stefanski then provided links to news stories about hate crimes against Jews, white men, Latinos, the LGBTQ community, and others, being targeted.
On March 23, Tenorio had written the Common Council, “With the recent rise of anti-AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) hate crimes and the murders last week in Atlanta, my heart is very heavy, and I am feeling raw. Moving forward, I would like to introduce a resolution condemning anti-AAPI racism at the April 7th Common Council Meeting. I’ve been speaking with Mayor Devine, and he’ll be putting out a statement soon in support of the AAPI community.”