Last Thursday night, University students, family and friends braved the cold weather and gathered on the Diag in an effort to promote public awareness of hate crimes, as well as take a pro-active stance against racially motivated and other discriminatory acts of violence. How do we put an end to such crimes?

The first step is to recognize that, though sadly under-reported, hate crimes have become rampant in our society. One must then understand that the key motivating factor behind such crimes is prejudice racial, religious or otherwise. Since prejudice stems largely from ignorance, the solution lies in education. Different student groups can use this issue as their common denominator to unite against ignorance and hate-based crimes by teaching one another about their race, religion or sexuality.

However, education is not enough. Because some people feel that by hurting others they are fulfilling a duty to “clean” society, something must be done to prove to these people that society does not condone this viewpoint. In other words, by passing legislation that imposes harsher punishments on hate crime offenders, the logic that society promotes such ignorant attitudes can be undermined. Laws that condemn hate crimes send the message that prejudice in all forms is unacceptable.

Some argue that anti-discriminatory legislation is redundant violence is violence, why give preferential treatment to minority groups? While it is obvious that all violence is unacceptable, this argument fails to recognize that by not explicitly protecting the potential victims of senseless crimes of prejudice, our society can never truly claim to be one of equality and fair treatment.

The KKK”s attack on a black person”s home, for instance, is more than just an assault. The death of Matthew Shepard was more than just a homicide these are crimes born of a perpetuated hate. Like cancer, this hate has spread through our society relatively undetected, acknowledged in the form of weak outcries only during those occasional outrageously heinous crimes. To bring about change, we must take a proactive stance and send the message that prejudice is not tolerated here.

Educating one another eliminates the fear ignorance produces, the fear that leads people to perform horrible crimes. We must also demand legislative action write to your senators and local representatives, showing your support of anti-hate crime laws. Through education and legislation we can eradicate this social disease.

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