Islamophobia has been a very real issue in the United States, especially after 9/11. The lack of ignorance on the Muslim faith in the U.S. is almost astounding. Many people associate Muslims with terrorist attacks and violence in the Middle East. In reality, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, spiritual, and generous. The victims of the Chapel Hill Shooting in North Carolina were no exception. All three were diligent students, advocates of the poor, and extremely religious. Why then, were the two newlyweds and the bride’s sister murdered in cold blood by their neighbor?
Chapel Hill Shooting
Tuesday, February 10, just after 5pm, gunshots rang out in a quiet condominium complex called Finley Forest in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Hours later, Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in for the murders of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha. Deah and Yusor had just gotten married at the end of December, and had barely begun their lives together as newlyweds. Deah, 23, was a dentistry student at University of North Carolina, and his wife Yusor, 21, was to soon join him in dentistry school. She had a biology degree from North Carolina State and she worked at Deah’s brother’s logistics service in the meantime. Razan, 19, was an undergrad majoring in architecture at North Carolina State in Raleigh, and was extremely close with her older sister. All three of them were diligent honors students, and extremely faithful Muslims. They prayed five times a day, fed the homeless, ate halal diets, and the girls wore hijabs. Craig Hicks, on the other hand, was an unemployed student at a community college studying to become a paralegal. He moved into his second wife’s condo seven years earlier, and he had more than a dozen guns stashed in his condo. His first wife Cynthia Hurley also said his favorite film Falling Down, which is about a violent shooting rampage. Hurley said “he watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all” (Washington Post).
The day of the shooting, Razan invited her sister to family dinner in Raleigh, but Yusor declined and invited Razan to dinner in Chapel Hill instead. The two girls were at the apartment first, one parked in an unassigned spot, and the other parked on the street. Deah Barakat had left his car in their assigned spot, taking the bus to and from class, and no one was parked in Hicks’ spot. The three had about half an hour together when their lives were cut brutally short. Hicks showed up to the door, had a short conversation with Deah, and then pulled out a concealed firearm and started shooting Barakat with no warning, and no physical provocation. A spray of bullets hit both girls, and he proceeded to walk into the condo, shoot both girls in the head, and then shot Barakat one more time in the head on his way out. Hicks then turned himself in to Durham county police a few hours later. The bullet casings in the condo matched a gun found in his car, and his pants had gunpowder residue and a few drops of Yusor’s blood on them. He is being charged with three counts of first degree murder plus discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling. As of early April, this case will proceed as a death penalty case. The state will not pursue a hate crime charge, but if the federal investigation shows that this is a hate crime, he will be given a longer sentence.
Hate Crime or Parking Dispute?
Leading up to the shooting, there had been several scary moments for the three victims. Hicks had gone over to their apartment to complain multiple times about noise complaints, friends parking, and speaking Arabic too loudly. He even showed his gun to Yusor and she later joked that maybe she should get one, but didn’t think she’d ever be able to fire it. Yusor had told her father about the aggressive behavior of Hicks and said she was scared that Hicks hated them for who they were and how they looked. Before they were married, Deah had lived in the condo for about a year and a half with no problems. When Yusor started coming over more, Hicks started to become more aggressive toward them. The couple had only been married for six weeks, but Hicks had already caused many problems for them.
Immediately after the shooting, media was calling the tragedy a hate crime due to the fact that only Muslims were shot. Soon after, however, Chapel Hill Police and Karen Hicks stated that the attacks were related to a parking dispute, not their religion. Hicks had a history with being over controlling of parking at the complex. Each condo got two parking passes but only one assigned spot. There were several unclaimed spots to use, plus parking on the street. Hicks insisted that one of the unassigned spots in front of the condo belonged to his wife. This directly violated the complex’s rules of one spot per person, but he continued to harass residents about parking there. Other neighbors could attest to how obsessive he was about parking including handing out highlighted maps of the parking lot, confronting people, and abusing the towing service to the point that the complex told him to stop. Police also found detailed notes and pictures on parking activity at the complex.
Karen Hick’s attorney, Robert Maitland said “obviously it’s not within the range of normal behavior for someone to shoot three people over parking issues”. He’s suggesting that Hicks was mentally ill and got carried away about the parking. On the other hand, many people believe it was a hate crime against the victims’ Muslim identity. Hicks was openly atheist on his facebook, and he only started harassing them about parking when Yusor (in her obviously Muslim attire) began visiting the condo more. Deah could pass as a regular white guy, but Yusor and Razan wore the hijab (CNN).
The FBI defines a hate crime as any “traditional offense such as murder, arson, or vandalism, with an added element of bias”. The motivation behind the crime has to be the victim’s race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Hate crimes can be extremely hard to prove, especially in this case. Although Hicks had atheist content on his computer, there was nothing that was specifically anti-Muslim. Even though signs may point toward it being a hate crime, with no evidence or no confession, it can’t be proven.
Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of Yusor and Razan, said that this was a hate crime. He told local news that Hicks had come to the apartment more than once with threatening, condescending, and hateful things to say to them. The parking dispute excuse also falls a bit short when you look at the facts surrounding the case. The parking spot in question wasn’t occupied by any of the three killed because they had learned not to park there to keep the peace. On top of that, Hicks had lived there seven years without killing anyone, but within six weeks of a Muslim couple living there, he killed them “execution style” without any provocation. An important question to ask is, what if the roles had been reversed? If Hicks was a devout Muslim who killed three innocent college students, parking would never even be brought up. The media would go crazy about a terrorist on a killing spree, and Islamophobia in the U.S. would spike again.
Not only was this shooting tragic, but it was also extremely controversial. Many are calling it a hate crime, but others insist it was simply a parking dispute. It was interesting to research this topic, because every source was slightly different. I found that ABC and CNN were more likely to portray the shooting as a parking dispute. Others, such as Huffington Post and NY Times, felt strongly that it was a hate crime. Many of the news sources seemed to be rather neutral, especially the local news(WNCN) and the BBC. Depending which article one read could give off a totally different take on the story vs. another article. It’s important to read multiple sources and form our own opinions off the presented data. Until the official verdict comes out, we can only guess if Craig Hicks will get an additional charge for committing a hate crime on top of his charges for first degree murder and dispatching a firearm in an occupied building. Regardless of the FBI hate crime investigation, Hicks is never going to be a free man again, whether he dies in prison of old age or capital punishment
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