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Hanging is not a harmless prank

This past year, there have been two highly publicized acts on the University of Kentucky campus that have been deemed racist in nature. While most in the community condemned the acts, many said political correctness was running amok and that free speech was being silenced.

In October 2007, a racial epithet was carved into a student's dorm-room door.

This time around an effigy of Sen. Barack Obama, a candidate for president of the United States, was hung.

UK senior Joe Fischer and his friend Hunter Bush are accused of hanging the effigy of Obama in a tree along Rose Street. The two young men have been charged with burglary, theft by unlawful taking and disorderly conduct.

According to court papers, the two said they did it because an effigy of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was hanged from the roof of a private home in California.

But if the two men hanged the effigy in response to the hateful depiction of Palin, why didn't they hang a depiction of Sen. Joe Biden, her counterpart? It wouldn't have been any less hate-filled, but it would have been a more fair tit for tat and would have eliminated the racial tinge.

Some members of this community at large cried out: "Leave those two poor lads alone. It was just a silly prank."

I understand where those sentiments are coming from. The young men, 21 and 22, who are charged are well within the boundaries of the age when men do very stupid things. I know. I have two sons who fall in that category.

But when I think of stupid pranks, I think of streaking, public intoxication or confiscating the a mascot of a rival school.

Harmless acts.

Hanging, however, is not harmless.

It is an extremely violent act regardless of what or who is dangling from the end of the rope.

Hangings have been used to dehumanize people and to show the victim that those who condoned or conducted the killing were far superior and somehow more civilized.

A hanging is drenched in hate and terror. It's a power play. It is meant to be hurtful. It is not a prank.

Those who did it knew that. Why else would they hang the effigy on university property, not their own? They wanted the biggest bang for their buck. They wanted to make a statement that would imbed itself in the minds of all who saw it. They wanted that kind of power, but with anonymity.

Had they hung a resemblance of Obama on their own home — as did the man in California who hanged an effigy of Palin — they would have had complaints and disgusted looks, but everyone would have known who they were.

Plus, they probably would have remained outside of the justice system.

On your own property, the act would have been free speech, albeit hateful. On university property, it was cowardly and, at least, a violation of rules.

Four students in Oregon did the same thing in September and received long-term suspensions from their university. They also were required to do community service. Officials there didn't consider the acts a prank.

I don't think those responsible in Lexington should to go to jail, and I don't think they should be expelled if still in college. But their actions cannot be ignored or swept under a rug. That would devalue the hurt their hate caused.

Like the Oregon students, those responsible here should be suspended from UK if still enrolled and should do community service. They have to be taught that you can't use a public university as your personal political stage.

And they also have to learn that hate hurts. I'm sure Palin didn't feel any better about seeing an image of herself hanging from that roof in California, than Obama has at the numerous nooses depicted around his neck this year.

Fortunately, the homeowners in all other effigy cases have dismantled those images.

One good thing is that UK officials responded quickly and boldly, tamping down any assumptions similar acts will be tolerated on that campus.

It's the best reaction I've seen from UK in many years. It was the reaction I would expect from a Top 20 school.

Members of this community should have done the same instead of discounting the effect such an act has on their neighbors.

In a country that presents itself to the world as a democracy that professes equal opportunity for its citizens, Obama's candidacy has forced us to examine ourselves, our motives and our actions.

Other countries are watching to see if we notice the log in our own eyes.

Regardless of how this presidential election turns out, Obama's candidacy should change us all for the better.

And, hopefully, we have learned once and for all that the act of hanging is not a harmless prank.

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