The Murder of Muslim Students in Chapel Hill: A Hate Crime?
In the summer of 2013, Leah Barakat and his roommate, Imad Ahmad, were moving into a condominium complex in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when Craig Hicks, another complex resident, stopped by to talk about parking rules: each resident received one space, with one more for a guest. Hicks, a gun collector in an open carry state, was known in the complex as fanatic about parking and noise, often talking to other residents about these matters.
Barakat was scheduled to begin dental school at the University of North Carolina that fall. He was engaged to Yusor Abu-Salha, an undergraduate at North Carolina State. Both had grown up in observant Muslim families. Fine-boned and slender with wide-set eyes, Abu-Salha wore the hijab. Barakat's parents were immigrants from Syria; Abu-Salha's parents were Palestinians who had lived in Kuwait and Jordan. But both considered themselves to be integrated into U.S. culture in the Chapel Hill area.
Barakat tried to handle Hicks' complaints with reason. When Hicks came by to complain about parking, once while carrying a holstered gun, Barakat did not escalate the conflict. Instead, he obtained a parking lot map, marked the spaces that were permitted for parking, and gave this to his family and others who would visit him. Ahmad worried about Hicks, but Barakat would tell him that Hicks was "smart enough" not to do anything serious. Barakat and Abu-Salha were married in 2015 and moved into a new apartment together in the same complex.
Hicks had lost a job as an auto-parts salesman, worked at a deli, and subsequently took classes at a local community college in the hope of becoming a paralegal. He was not "on his way up," as were many of the graduate student residents of the complex. He was on his third marriage, estranged from his 20-year-old daughter from the first marriage, and presented himself on Facebook as a libertarian gun enthusiast who wanted all religions to "go away." Although people saw him as an angry bully, it came as a huge shock when he shot and killed Barakat, Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan on February 10, 2015.
Was this about parking? Was it an argument about noise and territory gone tragically wrong? Were Hicks' motivations fueled by cultural and religious bias, or was that most of the story? While this may not have been as simple as Craig Hicks hating Muslims, there is strong
evidence that this played an important part in his violent rampage.
CRITICAL THOUGHT QUESTION
Why should an offense be considered worse because it is directed toward a member of a minority group?