Wednesday, May 23, 2018

UNC Chapel Hill Shooting: hate crime or act of insanity?



Three innocent Americans were murdered earlier this week. Two of the victims were a recently married couple attending dental school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, while the third was the wife’s younger sister, and freshman at the same university. They were shot in the head in their condominium complex by one of their neighbors, supposedly over a parking dispute. While this alone renders the crime worth condemning given its brutality, the specificities of the case- concerning the identity of the victims, their perpetrator and the question of motive, have opened up a ‘war of narratives.’

The three students- Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21 and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were Muslims of Arab descent, while their murderer, Craig Hicks was a middle-aged white man. It wasn’t long before the victims’ family, and many others appealed to the police that this was not just a murder case, but also a hate crime. The Mohammad sisters’ father also attested that just a few days earlier Yusor and Deah had complained to him about how Hicks had threatened them and made them feel uncomfortable. It is not a novel fact that Islamophobic tendencies have been spreading rampantly across the world, and have often manifested themselves in violent incidents against innocent people. For the most part, media’s portrayal of such incidents has been undeniably inadequate, particularly in contrast to when people of Islamic backgrounds are the alleged perpetrators. To consider a counterfactual situation, where a Muslim may have been the murderer, the crime would potentially have even been framed as an act of terrorism. Particularly in light of this fact, I think it is definitely worthwhile for every American to consider the idea of this incident being a hate crime. If not a hate crime toward a religious minority- it is still a hate crime of sorts toward the fabric of equality, and human rights that this nation was founded upon. Hicks’ identification as a new atheist does not make it easy to refute this narrative. Yet, the judiciaries claim that they are still to find evidence pertaining to Hicks crime being stimulated by hate- the murder of three Muslim students is not enough. The most disturbing part about this claim is that it accepts that three individuals were shot dead, simply over a casual parking dispute and no other reason. Quite frankly it is a warning call when someone is killed over parking.

While Hicks is already charged with triple homicide guaranteeing that he will be spending the rest of his life in prison, charging him for hate crime would have changed the nature of his sentence. Hick’s wife claimed that her husband tended to have a parking obsession, and did have a generally angry nature that was likely to have driven this incident. This lends towards the all too familiar justification that it was his mental state that led to this crime. We may wonder whether the same gunshots would have been fired if the people Hicks got in an argument with were not Muslim, or did not distinctly identify with any specific religion. But this also questions new atheist moralities, which leads to a whole separate narrative.

Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that America lost three innocent citizens, and their perpetrator did not get away with it. Does this truly mean justice was served? I am not sure. While I am not really a strong proponent for either of the two narratives addressing whether this was a hate crime or not, I do think this crime is yet another invitation for this nation to reconsider its gun laws, the dangers of media’s misrepresentations of certain communities, and ultimately the meaning of equality. In the mean time, definitely do not risk your life over a parking disagreement!



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