Police in West Allis, Wis., say some attacks by black teenagers on white people outside the gates of the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 4 were racially motivated and should be prosecuted as hate crimes.
One African-American teenager arrested Wednesday confirmed witness statements suggesting that the large group of black teens, who had originally fought among themselves, specifically targeted white people as they spilled out of the large fairgrounds on the outskirts of Milwaukee at closing time. According to the West Allis Police, he said he personally picked out white people because they were "easy targets." Eleven people were hurt.
The incident sparked a crackdown by Gov. Scott Walker (R) and widespread condemnation of the acts by leaders in Milwaukee's black community. After the incident, Milwaukee joined Chicago and Philadelphia in efforts to combat a spate of recent attacks by groups of primarily African-American teens against strangers who are white.
Opportunistic thrill-seeking and resentment fueled by stark segregation and high unemployment among young black males (39 percent versus 23 percent for white teens) have been cited by sociologists as possible causes for the recent attacks. The attacks have touched off debates in Milwaukee and elsewhere about who bears ultimate responsibility for the incidents: parents or society at large?
While racial motivations have been suspected in several other mob attacks, the recommendations by the West Allis police department appears to be the first time that specific hate charges have been cited in relation to recent attacks. Two similar attacks earlier this year in Milwaukee did not result in hate crime charges against the suspects.
"Attacking anyone based on their ethnicity or color means a racial hate crime should be an additional" charge, said Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, who is black, two days after the attacks.
Of a total of 36 race-related hate crime prosecutions in Wisconsin in 2009, 27 of the alleged crimes were antiblack, two were antiwhite, and the remainder were against other ethncities or nationalities, according to the most recent statistics from the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance.
Governor Walker deployed more state police to the fair after the incident and ordered that teens have to be chaperoned after dark. No other incidents have since been reported at the fair, which ends Aug. 14.