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Every Ugly Instance Must Be Countered

The battle for human rights is never easy.

Advocates have been beaten and killed fighting for such basics in this country as the right to sit at a lunch counter or on any bus seat. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was cut down by a sneak assassin because he had the guts to demand his U.S. citizenship rights - and to dream.

Much has changed in the 30 years since Dr. King fell.

We’ve expunged bigotry from our laws. Business and government no longer can use race, religion, disability or gender to discriminate against individuals.

Unfortunately, no law can eradicate prejudice from our hearts. It’s tenacious. And, if the truth be known, we all have biases against something or someone. In its worse form, bias surfaces in hate speech and actions that victimize helpless people. When that happens, the bigots should feel the sting of public outrage and, when applicable, the law.

It’s happening again in North Idaho. Recently, racists have crawled out from under their rocks to distribute hate literature and harass law-abiding citizens.

A student human rights leader at North Idaho College was called a racial slur and spit on by an unknown assailant. Fliers were spread through Boundary County attacking the area’s Hispanics. A mixed-race couple left Sandpoint because they didn’t feel welcome. A Filipino man decided to move his family after being harassed by Post Falls skinheads. And, on Monday, the NIC campus was littered with Aryan Nations propaganda.

No one seems to know what spurred area racists to step up their activity. But past experience has taught local human rights activists that such activity must not go unchallenged. Racism flourishes in a vacuum. It also prospers when elected and civic leaders refuse to take the problem seriously.

North Idaho’s elected leaders at all levels should follow Gov. Phil Batt’s example by denouncing racism every time it surfaces in their communities. Prosecutors and local police should use Idaho’s tough laws against malicious harassment to penalize those responsible for hate crimes. Schools should educate against racism and enforce a zero tolerance policy toward skinheads who harass classmates. Pastors should challenge prejudice in their congregations. Civic groups should encourage discussions about this problem.

Individuals should examine their hearts.

Racism is a sickness that has claimed too many victims already. , DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board