This is an opinion piece by Mohammad Abu-Salha, whose family members were killed by a gunman in 2015.
They had all been kind to the man who went on to murder them, despite the fact that he made it clear that he did not want them in his neighborhood. He had never brandished a gun until Yusor moved in and Razan began to visit, both wearing their headscarves, as Deah looked like an average all-American college student in sporty attire. Not long before they were killed, Yusor confided in me, “He told me he hated us for how we dressed and how we looked.” She believed she could win him over with kindness – that love would ultimately win, I disagreed but I did not want to impose on her or Deah as they just made their way into adulthood. Once my wife, Amira, saw him condescendingly yelling at Yusor while she was unloading her bridal belongings. Amira went to approach him but Yusor intervened “No mom, he is our neighbor, and we will change him with kindness”.
I still believe that love will win in the end, but everyone defines the end according to their own convictions and belief.
Even before officially informing us of our children’s death, the police in Chapel Hill, North Carolina informed the media that their murders were most likely because of a parking dispute. They automatically ruled out hate as a motive as soon as the murderer told them the version of the story that he wanted aired. Our families waited at the neighborhood’s clubhouse for more than four hours before an officer would tell us “They all passed, but at least it was quick, bullets to the head.”
Too many families live in fear, knowing that what happened to my family could happen to them.
Although the Chief of Police has since apologized to us for so quickly diminishing their murders, that apology cannot un-ring the bells of how the media portrayed the story in the immediate aftermath.
Any police department should know that jumping to conclusions before even talking to the victims and/or their families is foul and irremediable – especially, in our case, when there is a ruthless, well-financed and flourishing campaign against Muslims that many of us are battling every single day.
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Though most Muslim governments are actually allies to the U.S. on the war against terrorism, many American politicians and pundits survive by scapegoating all Muslims in the interest of their advancing their agenda. My Yusor said it best. While interviewing her middle school principal on StoryCorps she said, “Here, we’re all One.” These words would later be quoted by then President Barack Obama following the murders.
Our families’ encounters with law enforcement taught us that many states do not even have hate crime laws, and federal hate crime laws desperately need to be re-visited in order to be more clearly defined.
While many latched onto the “parking dispute” narrative, within hours, people around the world had decided what happened. They affirmed for us what we already believed, that this was a hate crime.
It has been just over three years since Yusor, Razan and Deah died, and hate crimes have continued to rise. Too many families live in fear, knowing that what happened to my family could happen to them. Too many families lose sleep at night, knowing the impact that hateful words from politicians, political pundits and extremist media are having across the United States and how they can incite violence. The only way that we can fight back against the violence is in the same way our children lived their lives -- with love and kindness while making sure the naked truth is heard and defended.
Together, we will win.
While we continue to hope that justice will be served, we are dismayed by the futile results of our talks with federal prosecutors and the Department of Justice, and by how the federal law is interpreted and applied. The assertion that the words of a murderer would have more weight than the victims of these crimes is nothing short of shameful. And we have to work together to stop this horrible trend in the U.S.
Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at Northeastern University stated that the man who murdered Deah, Yusor, and Razan did commit a hate crime. Of the many points he mentioned in his write up, he specifically explained that while the murderer could choose what reason to attribute his crime to, he had definitely chosen a group he hated to be the target of his crime. McDevitt also disagreed with the way the law is spelled and concluded “with hate crimes, it’s not always an either/or.”
He also pointed out that the FBI looks at the fact that the crime was disproportionately more heinous and violent than the reason given for it. The autopsy report confirmed that the gun barrel had indented our daughter’s scalps through their Hijabs and after shooting Deah many times, the murderer would not leave before putting a bullet through his mouth.
It is also important to note that the FBI documented that our children’s cars were not left in any space that had anything to do with anyone else’s parking spots.
Our fallen heroes have left behind a legacy for how an American Muslim should live their lives. They have unknowingly challenged and defied all Islamophobic stereotypes and have left a foundation of charity and philanthropy to live in eternity. The creation of the Our Three Winners Foundation is how our children’s legacy of service lives on and how we encourage everyone we can to live their lives as Deah, Yusor, and Razan did—by showing love through service.
Together, we will win.