Family, Friends: Chapel Hill Shooting Was Islamophobic Hate Crime, Not about Parking

Much of the US media has been portraying the 10 February 2015 Chapel Hill shooting as the product of a “parking dispute”—or, at the very least, as if that it being a hate crime is contestable.

In doing so, the media is not just doing an injustice to the most basic facts and neglecting in its duties to accurately present information to the public, it is also denying these three young Muslim Americans who were brutally murdered their own victimhood.

In an instance verging on the macabrely farcical, CBS demonstrated that it cared more about finding a parking spot than the fatal shooting of three Americans. It used the shooting as a segue into a segment on how to find a parking spot. Media watchdog organization Media Matters for America drew attention to the story.

“Now, finding a parking space is one of those things that can push some people over the edge. But there is always a way to find a spot at the mall,” the host said, after completely dismissing the possibility that the attack was a hate crime. After devoting just 17 seconds to the execution-style murders, CBS proceeded to spend two minutes and 24 seconds on a how-to video guide to parking your car. Some remarked that it almost seemed as though the network was going out of its way to try to dishonor the memory of the American youths murdered in this horrific attack.

Families and friends of the victims, nonetheless, have made it absolutely clear that this attack was in no way about a “parking dispute.” On the day after the 10 February shooting, the sister of Deah Barakat, a 23-year-old dentistry student killed in the shooting, called for the case to be investigated as a hate crime.

“They were gems of their communities, and left a lasting impression on the people around them. They inspired us; they served as role models to the youth,” she recalled. “We ask that the authorities investigate these senseless and heinous murders as a hate crime.”

Numerous family members and friends spoke to the media on the day following the attack, saying the same. Mo Idlibby, a friend of the victims, was interviewed on CNN, where he deconstructed media rumors that the execution-style killing of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha was not an anti-Muslim hate crime.

Idlibby begins noting

We’ve got to preserve Deah’s, Yusor’s, and Razan’s legacy, and we have to accurately portray it. And while the family and we are all grieving, and while we are going to wait for the results of a full investigation, we can tell you that the overwhelming evidence is certainly pointing towards it being motivated by hate. And we want to make sure that the story is set straight.

Three people were not brutally murdered, premeditated, solely because of a parking space issue.

The CNN host adds that Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the victims, had just been on air, and he had explained that Deah Barakat had not been harassed by the killer until his wife Yusor, who wears hijab, moved in.

Barakat’s close friend Idlibby continues.

Deah had been living there for about a year and a half. Deah and Yusor just got married at the end of December last year, so they were only married for a little bit more then a month. And, after she moved in is when this individual, Mr. [Craig] Hicks, showed up at their apartment several times. And, of course, it’s very important to note that Yusor wears the headscarf, the hijab, which is obviously very visibly Muslim. And it was only after she was there that he showed up on several occasions, with a gun, holding a gun, and making loud and rude remarks, threatening remarks towards them. So this made her very concerned. And she called her family and voiced concern.

Deah was the kind of person who was so warm-hearted that he would never play the role of victim. So he, as tough guy, never really wanted to speak out about it. But it certainly was conveyed to us, to the families, that they were scared, just as recently as one week ago.

I also spoke with Deah’s inlaws… and it was very clear that she said they are terrified of this neighbor.

Idlibby then proceeded to show a wedding photo of Barakat posed as his favorite basketball player, saying “This is just one example of what a real Muslim is like, not what ISIS is portraying around the world.”

Mo Idlibby cnn basketball

The family friend concludes adding

I would just call upon the Chapel Hill police department to make sure that they are very careful in conducting a full investigation before they come out and say that this was over a parking space, because it’s very offensive and inflammatory to the family, to his friends and all his loved ones across the world, for that to be the headline, and we’re going to set the story straight.

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of the victims

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of the victims

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha also went on record insisting the attack was a hate crime. He spoke about how his daughters constantly endured anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism, and blamed the “inflammatory media” for disseminating harmful stereotypes of Muslims.

They both, my daughters, wear the scarf. There is not a single week that our daughters don’t share with us their fear of walking down the street because of what the media is saying about us. Inflammatory media all the time. Inflammatory media all the time. They pick up the bad apples, and they magnify the picture, and they dwell on it day and night. …

We’re sad. We’re distraught. We’re shocked. We’re angry. We’re—we feel we were treated unjustly. This is uncalled for. We heard from the media—not from the media, from the police folks that each one of these children had a bullet in the head. This was an execution style, this was a hate crime from a neighbor our children spoke about, they were uncomfortable with. He came to their apartment more than once, condescending, threatening and despising and talking down to them.

In a 12 February segment on Democracy Now, Amira Ata, the best friend, since childhood, of the late Yusor Abu-Salha, expressed the same sentiments.

Ata, who published a piece in, “Chapel Hill shooting: My best friend was killed and I don’t know why,” recounts past negative experiences with neighbor and shooter Craig Hicks.

We were invited over to Yusor and Deah’s house for dinner. Deah had made us dinner. We went over there. And this was in the engagement period. We were still, you know, getting to know him and that type of stuff. And after dinner, we were playing a game; it’s called Risk. I’m not sure if everybody knows about it. But it’s a game that you basically, like, conquer the world. And so, we were getting a little competitive, but we weren’t that loud. And the house is—like, where we were sitting, we were sitting in the living room. Like, there’s still another bedroom on one side and another bedroom on the other side, so there’s plenty of walls that are surrounded around us.

Soon after we left, Yusor contacted us, and she told us, “Did my neighbor say anything to you guys when you guys left out?” And we were like, “No, we just left. We didn’t see anybody.” And she said, “Oh, my neighbor came to my doorstep, and he was holding a gun and was telling me that we were too loud and we woke up his wife.” We told her, all of us that were there—it was four of us—we told her, “Call the police. Tell them what happened.” And she was debating whether she should or she shouldn’t, whether—because she was like, “He didn’t really do anything. I don’t know if I should make this a big deal. I’m not really sure what to do,” that type of thing. And, you know, she was so nice to him. Like, she was just explaining to him, you know, “We weren’t that loud, but I’m sorry. You know, if we were loud, I apologize for that.” And I don’t know, it was just a weird situation.

So, on Tuesday, as we were getting all of the phone calls and hearing all of the gossip and everybody is telling us, “Get to Chapel Hill,” we had no idea what was going on. As I’m driving down there, I’m thinking if—I thought only Deah was dead, honestly; I didn’t think Yusor had died, and I didn’t know Razan was involved. Driving there, I was like, if Deah was shot, the neighbor had to do it. I knew, automatically, because I thought immediately, “Who would do something like this to them? It was their neighbor.” She complains about him to her parents. I don’t know if he—how many times he’s threatened her. Her dad knows more. But she wasn’t comfortable staying there. And she used to always try to convince one of us, if we finished class at State, to come to Chapel Hill and spend time with her so she wouldn’t be alone all the time. So, I’m not really sure if that was just a fear she didn’t want to be alone, but, I mean, she knew that it wasn’t really safe there, with that neighbor that tends to come to her house holding a gun. Like, if I had a problem with my neighbor, I might write a letter, you know, put it on their doorstep or on their car, but I wouldn’t go to my neighbor holding a gun, at night.

Amira Ata, friends of the victims

Amira Ata, friends of the victims

Host Amy Goodman asks the family friend “Did she say he ever—did she feel that he felt anger or hatred towards them because they were Muslim?” Ata replies,

Yes, of course. She was saying, because they were different, she felt that she was hated. And she didn’t know why, because she’s such a sweet and calm person. She didn’t understand why anyone, you know, wouldn’t like her. So it didn’t make sense to her. And we told her, “It’s probably because you wear a scarf, you wear a hijab, and you are a Muslim.” So, people—some people are, you know, ignorant, and they are going to not like you because of what you represent, because people think that Islam is a bad thing.

Democracy Now also interviewed Omid Safi, a former professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and present director of the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. Safi reflected on the philanthropic lives of the youths, and also called for authorities to investigate the attack as a hate crime.

It’s obviously a very heavy time for all of us here in North Carolina and in the country. I think the initial response of the community here has been to ask the media focus to be on the lives of these three beautiful, young, idealistic, passionate people, these three young Muslims who connected the suffering here in America to the suffering around the world, who work in inner cities of North Carolina, as well as working with Syrian refugees in Turkey, working with Palestinians and others, rather than simply keeping the focus on this vile murderer and the horrific act of an execution-style murder.

And then the other aspect that we have seen has been the request of the family, and indeed the Muslim community here, to fully consider this as a possible hate crime. When you see a man breaking in with a gun, having threatened three people repeatedly over a course of weeks, and then shoot them in the head, as I mentioned, in an execution style, we’ve simply found it unbelievable that the police force would have initially dismissed this as a possible hate crime, or at least removed that possibility, minimized that possibility. And so I think the other aspect that the community here is wholeheartedly asking for is for this to be investigated as a serious hate crime.

The very last Facebook message that most of us saw from Deah—and these people are really the pillars of the community here. They’re the absolute role models for what it means to live an engaged, faithful life in the public space. And the last time that we all saw Deah in the social media context was he was talking about leading a campaign to provide free dental care for inner-city, primarily African-American, community in Durham, and to hand out free food. And this was just a short while after he had gotten married. And, you know, this is the kind of person that he was open-hearted, always with a smile, starting his action here at home, but then also with an eye toward suffering halfway around the world. And this is what we ask of the best of our young people, is to connect the suffering here at home to the suffering globally, because we want them to always be mindful of the fact that our humanity mingles together.

Professor Safi also spoke to the media double standard of presenting white perpetrators of violence and white terrorists as mentally disturbed “lone wolves,” and to comments by Hicks’ lawyer that the victims were in the “wrong place at the wrong time”—that is to say, their own home.

One of them is, I find it intriguing that whenever we have a white person engaging in horrific acts of violence, the immediate response is to say they’re a lone ranger, they’re disturbed, they’re marginalized, and possibly they suffer from mental illness. When we have people from a Muslim background who are coming, all of a sudden the conversation shifts to a culture of death and an ideology that somehow produces this, and then there’s an expectation of a communal apology on behalf of it.

Also on behalf of people who deeply care about issues of mental illness, I think it’s really important to say that while we do need extraordinary commitment to mental health here in North Carolina, where many of the institutions have in fact been shut down under Republican administration, the association between mental illness and violence is simply something that is not bore out by the facts on the ground.

And the second thing that I would say that came out of that really unacceptable presentation yesterday that you just alluded to is that the same lawyer also said that the three victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were in their own home. Since when is being in one’s own house being in the wrong place? Where are we supposed to be?

The provocative graphic accompanying The Daily Beast story "Friend: This Was No ‘Parking’ Murder," about the Chapel Hill shooting

The provocative graphic accompanying The Daily Beast story “Friend: This Was No ‘Parking’ Murder,” about the Chapel Hill shooting

Amira Ata also told The Daily Beat that she was certain that this was not about parking; it was a hate crime, end of story.