No one deserves to be shot to death because of their religious beliefs. On Tuesday, February 10th, Craig Stephen Hicks allegedly shot three Muslim students in the head, killing each of them. One of the victims was a student at North Carolina State University; another was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the third student was planning to enroll at UNC dental school this year. And why did he kill them? Initial reports indicate an ongoing dispute over a parking space led to the killing of the three Muslim students. Speculation arose on Twitter, #MuslimLivesMatter, that the killings were religiously motivated, and users also expressed outrage at what they saw as the mainstream media’s failure to report the incident. The #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag has gone viral, and the story is now mainstream.
According to the Washington Post, wife, Deah Barakat, 23, and husband, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Mohammad’s sister, Razan Homammad Abu-Salha,19, were each shot and killed in the head allegedly by Craig Stephen Hicks,46, who later turned himself in to authorities and appeared in court on Wednesday, February 11th. Apparently the dispute—possibly an ongoing dispute—arose over a parking space at an apartment complex where the three victims and Hicks lived. According to the father of two of the victims, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, hate led to two of the murders as Hicks had “picked on” Abu-Salha’s children a few weeks ago.
The #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag appeared on Twitter on Tuesday night largely in response to the mainstream media not covering the story. According to the Washington Post, the hashtag also reflects the users’ belief that the shootings were religiously motivated. The Council on Islamic Relations issued a statement on the killings later on Wednesday morning, and the statement called for the Chapel Hill Police Department to address the speculation about Hicks’ motives.
It is unclear why the mainstream media did not initially pick up the story, and it smarts given the widespread and almost instantaneous coverage of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris as well as similar coverage of the NYPD officers slain recently.
This does give the impression that Muslim lives are treated differently. The impression may be untrue, but it is there nonetheless. Likewise, it raises the question: would the story have been picked up without the social media buzz generated last night and into today?
The murders took place in the late afternoon (5:15 pm), and the story did not reach the media until early evening so it is possible the media did not catch the story soon enough. Given the age of social media and instant communication, this seems unlikely. Now the national media has latched on and is riding the wave spawned by this “feeding frenzy.”
Media outlets such as Breitbart and Drudge are trying to claim this was an “atheist” murder, and this is shameful. They were senseless murders, and it does not matter whether the killer was an atheist. Likewise, it does not matter if he were a Christian. The religion card played by either side is inappropriate, and it devalues the lives of the victims.
What matters is three people were killed because they were Muslim. In American and anywhere else, this is unacceptable. It is repugnant that these media outlets are attempting to capitalize on this senseless and bigoted violence.
What is the path forward here? Awareness and education. Fortunately one of the victims’ brother, Farris Barakat, started a Facebook group called “Our Three Winners” where he posted images of the three victims and announcements about funeral arrangements. This type of positive step along with the positive forces of social media—the new media—will create the kind of awareness necessary to change the mindset that gave rise to these horrific deaths.