Thursday, February 12, 2015

#EnoughWithTheHashtags - The Chapel Hill Murders and Why All Lives Matter

Not every senseless killing makes the news. It's sad really, but there just isn't enough media air time to give every victim their due. But some are thrust into the spotlight, usually because something makes the story more marketable, some detail of the crime will drum up enough emotion in the general public to boost viewer ratings for the news media.

On Tuesday night, our local television stations broadcast a news story about a triple homicide in Chapel Hill, three young people shot over a parking lot dispute. Nothing unusual there. It's local news for us, several local stations that we pick up are broadcast out of Raleigh, and there are alumni aplenty here from all of the major universities located in the Raleigh/Chapel Hill area. The story was locally relevant.

By Wednesday, the story hit the major media outlets like a ton of bricks shot out of a cannon. In less than 24 hours, it was being covered on national news broadcasts and was the top trending story on Facebook (Number 2 was Kanye West's public disrespect for artist Beck's Grammy, so trending topics might not be the best indicator for worthwhile news stories).

So what makes a story about one lunatic, overly zealous about parking spaces, who shot and killed three young and promising students/professionals, rocket into the national (dare I say international?) spotlight?

Photo thanks to ABC11 - WTVD Raleigh
The victims were Muslim.

Complete with exotically Muslim names and a plethora of media worthy photographs of two of the victims in hijab (the head-covering traditionally worn by Muslim women past the age of puberty). The victims are so very visibly Muslim that the public jumped headlong into assumptions of the crime being one motivated by hate and bigotry (although they were probably pushed over the cliff by the media).

I am in no way insinuating that the deaths of the three victims, Deah Shaddy Brakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salah, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha are anything less than tragic and heinous. No one deserves to die over something as trivially insignificant as a dispute over parking spaces. I grieve with the families over such promising young lives snuffed out so early. It's senseless and utterly heartbreaking.


(You knew there would be a "but" didn't you?)

Not every Muslim death is motivated by bigotry. Just like not every black death is motivated by racism. Sometimes people are killed over stupid things that have nothing to do with their minority status. Nothing.

While I personally don't know the murderer of these three young people, and won't claim to be able to see inside of his mind, the local authorities seem to believe that the killings were motivated by anger over misused parking slots, not motivated by religious hatred. Also, reports of his social media accounts found nothing about Muslim intolerance (although the man was a self-described atheist and seemed to hold all organized religion in a state of disdain). There has been nothing to surface that the man is specifically anti-Muslim or that he would execute three young neighbors just because of their religion.

I know that it is difficult to imagine someone being so angry that he would kill multiple people over just a few square feet of asphalt. We want to believe that such a horrific crime was caused by something deeper and darker than macho stupidity and poor anger management, but people are killed everyday for stupid, stupid reasons... like cutting people off in traffic and burning birthday dinners.

What is scary and dangerous is when every crime committed against a minority becomes a hate crime just because the victim was... well, a minority. We have to realize that not every act of violence or perceived slight or spoken criticism is motivated by the victim's sexual preferences, chosen religion or skin color.

I would like to raise my children to see people based on their character, not through often socially imposed lenses (and yes... most often those lenses define people by race, religion, gender, and sexuality). Sometimes I fail. I am only a human being who is striving to be a better human being. I'm not perfect. But the media makes it extremely difficult when race and religion are reported as the focus of crimes. The media, while touting how everyone should be treated equally, is the very entity that often thrusts a victim's (or a suspect's) skin color or religion or sexuality front and center, right into the national spotlight.

It's either an issue or it isn't. I don't think we can have it both ways.

When hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #MuslimLivesMatter hit the trending lists on social media, it does us as a society no favors. Because black lives and Muslim lives and women's lives and even straight white male lives ALL matter. None more so than any other. The hashtags just keep us divided when we are really all essentially the same.

Meaningless violent crimes are horrible no matter what the victims chose to wear on their heads or how they chose to pray or what shade their skin.

I know that the media is going to say what is popular. They are going to spin stories in ways that will keep people angry, keep people watching. They need to entertain and sell advertising. Truth is irrelevant most of the time (Brian Williams being the most recent and publicly obvious example of "journalistic integrity"). Unfortunately, the salable national narrative as perpetuated by the media is that victims are targeted for whatever minority status they represent. In this case, the victims were (Obviously. Just look at their chosen attire) killed because they are least that's the narrative repeatedly being pushed.

But we don't have to drink the Kool-aid. We can watch with discernment, while questioning media motives. That is allowed.

Maybe... just maybe we should hold off with jumping to conclusions. Maybe we should wait for solid evidence, evidence beyond the photos of hijab-wearing women, that this was indeed a crime motivated by religious intolerance. Maybe we can grieve the senseless deaths of three promising young people regardless of the motivations of their killer. Maybe we can postpone the candlelight vigils and self-righteous outrage and world marches for tolerance... because they are ways to keep us divided and alone, although veiled in the guise of unity.

Maybe instead of letting the world know that we are "outraged by the killing of these three innocent young Muslims" (like the author of this Huffington Post article bemoans) we could instead be outraged by the killing of three innocent young PEOPLE.

Because shouldn't ALL LIVES MATTER?

Enough with the hashtags.

1 comment:

Hamza Balol said...

Hi Alice,

I loved the article of "8 things never to do before mom has her coffee." I received as a bonus stroy from one of the groups that usually sends short, inspirational stories around the world. Each warning point was more beautiful, more expressive, and more funny than the one before. If these things do not happen in a home, then there is something wrong of course. Being a full-time mother is not an easy task, it is one of the highest salaried jobs since the payment is pure love. Hope you had a lovely Valenetine's Day with your loved ones.

Best wishes,
Hamza Hassan
Saudi Arabia