I’m so sick to my stomach writing this article. Writing about three Muslim students who lost their lives Tuesday evening at the hands of their clearly deranged neighbor pains me. Knowing that Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan were senselessly murdered outside of their Chapel Hill, NC condominium pains me. However, what pains me the most is the fact that numerous media outlets and Chapel Hill police failed to call this tragedy what it really is: a hate crime.
In a statement released by the police department, investigators determined that 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks shot and killed three innocent students living in the same complex as him over an “ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.” Three people were shot and killed execution style because of a parking dispute. Just allow that claim to sink into your head. The mere thought that anyone would murder their neighbors over parking spots seems outrageous. In fairness, the Chapel Hill PD is still investigating the possibilities of a hate crime against the students, but that part of the statement didn’t make headlines on Wednesday.
Wednesday morning, I was outraged and incredibly saddened to read this news. I read about the lives of these victims. Deah, 23, was studying to become a dentist at the University of North Carolina. He had recently married Yusor, 21, who was also planning to study dentistry. Yusor’s sister Razan, 19, was a student at North Carolina State University. All had been involved with fundraising efforts in the Muslim community, especially in Syria. They had been described as “gems of their community,” according to Deah’s sister.
As my morning progressed, I kept the three victims in my thoughts. I questioned why someone would even lay a finger on these people who had done so much good and brought about so much happiness to others. I prayed for their families. I prayed they would receive closure soon. I checked the news to see if a motive had been released, only to see three headlines from CNN, Fox News, and ABC News on Facebook reporting the motive was indeed fueled by the parking space dispute, not because the students were Muslim. Two of the news sources didn’t even mention the possibility of a hate crime in the article summary.
There is no doubt in my mind this horrendous act was a hate crime. In fact, it is blatantly obvious that this was a hate crime. We live in post-9/11 America, where anti-Muslim sentiment is rampant across the country. We live in a society where people will refuse to get on a plane if a woman wears a hijab. We live in a society where a Muslim child is automatically labeled “terrorist” because that’s the only side of Islam the other kids see on TV. Hell, we live in a society where one preacher scheduled an event to burn Qu’rans. No, this was no neighborly dispute. This was an act of pure hate, an act fueled by Craig Stephen Hicks’ anti-religion stance that prompted him to harass the students and eventually kill them in a fit of rage, according to Yusor and Razan’s psychiatrist father Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha.
To buy into the idea that these three bright and loving students were murdered over a parking space is insulting, especially because the signs are so clear that Hicks’ fear and hatred of Islam compelled him to do something so unthinkable. It’s insulting to Muslim people around the world to see the media clinging to the claim that this act was simply a dispute between neighbors. It’s insulting to the American people as a whole to sit there and even try to deny this was a hate crime that killed three wonderful people because this act was an attack on the religious liberty promised to every citizen.
Deah, Yusor, and Razan’s deaths will be mourned, but their lives will be forever celebrated by the people they touched with their kindness and joy. After all, Muslim lives matter, too.