Claims by alleged shooter, personal stories illustrate racism remaining in Eau Claire

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EAU CLAIRE, Wisc. (WEAU) - A bar shooting in Eau Claire may have been sparked by racist remarks, according to claims from the suspect.

Rodney Craig, 36, is charged with attempted 1st-Degree Intentional Homicide in the shooting at the Idlewild bar earlier this month.

He claimed he was provoked into a fight after a man in the bar called him racial slurs including the n-word.

The other man told police the fight started after Craig approached him, offended by his shirt that had the word "spade" on it, another word some say is a racist term.

With alcohol a possible factor, police said in either case, the words have no place in our society and the shooting was senseless and dangerous.

The claims highlight the realities of racism and the challenges in handling it.

The claims of the n-word starting an interracial fight that ended in the shooting, along with personal stories from U.W. Eau Claire students, showed that racism remains in the community.

"Back in high school and middle school ... someone telling another person to make sure to stay away from me because I might eat their dog," UWEC freshman Tou Chao Yang, who is Hmong, said.

"I've had all sorts of names called and I've been bullied when I was younger," UWEC senior Nicholas Koerner, whose mother is white and father is black, said.

UW Eau Claire history associate professor Selika Ducksworth-Lawton who teaches classes on race relations said targets of racism need to understand the consequences of reacting with violence.

"I've been called (the n-word) when I’ve been out running or biking by myself. My husband has been called this word," Ducksworth-Lawton said.

"If you're black, you have to understand that if you throw the punch (after someone says something racially insulting), you're the one who's going to be arrested. So that's our reality," she said.

"You can't be black in America and not experience racism at some point. So you have to learn how to deal with it and learn how to control yourself in those situations, and sometimes it might just be leaving that situation," Koerner said.

"American masculinity argues you stay and fight it out. You have to decide; do you want that assault charge on your record or do you want to walk away from this fight?" Ducksworth-Lawton said.

"If you fight fire with fire, you're just gonna create a bigger fire. So there's no point in firing a gun at someone, who just said that to you. It shouldn't hurt your feelings because you just have to be the better person," Yang said.

Ducksworth-Lawton said prevention of racism starts with parents.

"Parents need to talk to kids about, 'There are certain words you just don't say, and certain things you just don't do,'" she said.

"Expose them to people who are different and try doing that consistently throughout their lives, so that they develop these sort of skills," Koerner said.

Ducksworth-Lawton said society needs to remember, after any wrong-doing: "We need to look at the behavior and not the race of the person who's doing it."

Ducksworth-Lawton said it's also important to remember that the first amendment doesn't cover speech that incites violence, and avoiding unsafe places will help prevent these events from happening.

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