By Michael Weiner and Dennis Elsenbeck
We are witnessing a rise in hate crimes in our community, state and nation. A hate crime is motivated by the offender’s bias against another’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity. One result of a hate crime is wide-reaching fear.
In response to recent anti-Semitic acts targeting the Jewish community, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has allocated funds to enhance security at religious schools and to offer rewards for individuals to provide information to our law enforcement agencies.
These added security measures are important to combat the fear that parents feel as they send their children to school, to child care at Jewish community centers and to other similar institutions that play an important role in the social fabric of our community.
Yet we all know that security measures alone will not prevent hate crimes. We must get to the root of the problem. How do we combat hate?
The words of three Nobel laureates, three non-violent activists, three great individuals and teachers, representing three major religions, are helpful for us to reflect upon as we face the heightened fear and distrust in our community as a result of a rise in acts of hate.
Nobel laureate, minister and non-violent civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
His words provide a helpful challenge to our community: Love one another.
We can all make a special effort to reach out to people we know from marginalized groups that may feel more fearful in recent times. We can let our neighbors know that we care and want them to feel safe and supported.
The world’s youngest Nobel laureate, survivor of an assassination attempt by the Taliban, human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, teaches us, “With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.”
The way to overcome hate crimes in our community, just like in communities throughout the world, is to empower our children through education. Learning about difference reduces fear. Learning alongside one another builds friendship. Learning creates opportunity and a better future for all of us. Opportunity is the best antidote to xenophobia, racism and intolerance.
Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel taught us, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Although extremists are not representative of our community, hate crimes committed cannot go without response. We cannot be indifferent.
For the past 100 years, the United Way has long offered a simple formula to resist the lull of indifference and promote unity: Give. Volunteer. Advocate.
Today, we advocate. Let each of us play our part in responding to hate with love, here in the City of Good Neighbors.
Michael Weiner is president and CEO of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. Dennis Elsenbeck is board chairman of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.