The State of Hate: A News 3 Now Investigation

Death threats.

Assaults on coworkers, bar patrons, neighbors, and strangers passing on the street.

Online harassment and stalking.

In a far-reaching investigation, the News 3 Investigates team reveals the scope and reach of hate in Wisconsin today.

In reviewing hundreds of pages of investigation reports tagged by police as including a hate component over the past three years, the team uncovered new details about the way victims are targeted and how crimes go unreported, untracked or misclassified in Wisconsin’s official statistics.

Along the way, more than two dozen investigators, prosecutors, victims, advocates, and other experts weighed in. Bias and discrimination needs extra steps to investigate: too often, there’s a failure to recognize and report bias as part of a crime.

And for the first time, a review of court documents puts a current number on how often prosecutors successfully bring the hate penalty statewide–as well as the crimes that don’t make the cut.

Wisconsin state law mandates the collection of hate crime investigation numbers. But what isn’t tracked is the number of prosecutions and convictions.

News 3 Now Investigates reviewed five years’ worth of cases in Wisconsin from 2016 to 2020 that used the hate crime penalty.

Our research found nearly half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties never used a hate crime penalty from 2016 to 2020.

“It doesn’t mean there were no hate crimes. It may be that a prosecutor believes that a hate crime is committed, but they don’t believe they have the evidence to ask for that enhancement.” —Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Dane County accounts for a third of the state’s initial hate crime charges in the last five years. That can be attributed to a 2019 shift in policy from the Dane County district attorney’s office.

“We felt that it was important for us to make a statement to the community. We were seeing an uptick in, I would say, hate indicators — slurs, that type of thing — within the police reports.” — Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne

Of the 141 different cases in which hate crime charges were initially filed, 11% of cases aren’t available for online review. Of the remaining cases:

  • About 40% of the cases that initially carried a hate crime penalty eventually had the modifier dropped or dismissed.
  • Another 40% of hate crime cases are still open.
  • About 19% of hate crime cases have ended in a conviction.

“Hate crimes are message crimes. If you attack a Black man, you want the entire Black community to know, ‘You’re not welcome. You’re not like us. Leave.’ But the police and the prosecutor can send an absolutely different message if they stand up and say we are prosecuting this as a hate crime. The message that is sent (is), ‘You are welcome. You are our brothers and sisters. We will protect you, you make us better.'” — Retired U.S. prosecutor John Vaudreuil

The News 3’s Investigative team can be reached at news3investigates@wisctv.com; feel free to contact us with your stories. The State of Hate is an ongoing investigative project that we’ll be contributing to with on-air stories and digital-only pieces throughout 2021.