What Do The Chapel Hill Shootings Say About Race Relations In The USA?

On Tuesday three young students in the college town of Chapel Hill in North Carolina were shot dead. According to BBC reports, the victims were 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. All three were students at nearby universities, and were from Muslim faith backgrounds.

A man named Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been arrested in connection with the Chapel Hill Shootings and has appeared in court charged with first-degree murder. According to the Mirror, Hicks has expressed atheist views on Facebook, and as a result many have ascribed racial and religious motives to the Chapel Hill shootings.

In a statement on Wednesday, Chapel Hill Police said an ongoing parking dispute apparently led to the shooting, a theory which has been rejected by the father of the Abu-Salha sisters. Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha is reported to have said the incident was not parking related and described it as a “hate crime”.

Neighbors of all those involved in the Chapel Hill shooting tragedy have said that Hicks always seemed angry and frequently confronted his neighbours.

His ex-wife has admitted he was obsessed with the shooting-rampage movie Falling Down and showed “no compassion at all” for other people. However, his current wife, Karen Hicks, said he “champions the rights of others” and the shooting “had nothing do with religion or the victims’ faith”.

Chapel Hill Shooting Suspect

The Washington Post says that on Wednesday, the father of the two women said one of his daughters had mentioned Hicks’ before and felt he was anti-Muslim. A week ago, he said, she told her family she had “a hateful neighbor.” Clearly, the families involved in the Chapel Hill shootings have different views, but at the Washington Post points out that the case does highlight tensions between Muslims and atheists in the U.S.

The fact that the Victims of the Chapel Hill Shootings were Muslim has tapped immediately into a conversation that has been going on since September 11 about why several of atheism’s biggest figures have singled out Islam for criticism.

Among them are biologist and writer Richard Dawkins and neuroscientist Sam Harris, who have both triggered controversy with their comments about Islam.

For example, after the Paris attacks on magazine Charlie Hebdo, Dawkins tweeted that “all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t.”

The fact that the victims of the Chapel Hill shooting were Muslim and their killer is a white atheist has inevitably lead many to believe that a racist or anti-Islamic motive lay behind the shootings. The lack of an official response from the U.S. government has led to a huge backlash on social media.

Vox points out that after the killing, Twitter users discovered a heartbreaking tweet, from just weeks before, from an account that appeared to be Deah Barakat’s. The tweet, with its message of peace and tolerance has struck a chord, particularly among Twitter users who believe Barakat’s death may have been motivated by religious hatred.

In the wake of the Chapel Hill shooting users of social media have been fiercely critical of the lack of an official condemnation of the murders and of a perceived lack of national media coverage of the shooting.

The hashtag #ChapelHillShooting has been used more than 900,000 times and was trending not only in the US but also in the UK, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries. An Arabic hashtag, which translates as ‘Chapel Hill Massacre’, was also trending with almost 33,000 tweets.

The hashtag #Muslimlivesmatter was also trending. The sentiment expressed is a simple one. Had the killer been Muslim and the victims white then the Chapel Hill shooting would have been condemned as a terrorist atrocity as was the case in the Paris shootings at Charlie Hebdo.

We may never know whether the Chapel Hill shooting had a racist or Islamaphobic motive or whether it was a simple dispute over parking rights, but one thing is certain. The Chapel Hill shootings, as well as the events in Ferguson and New York highlight the fact that many people in the U.S. feel that they are discriminated against, victimized and sometimes killed because of the color of their skin or because of the religion they follow.

Do Inquisitr readers think that the lack of media coverage or governmental response to the Chapel Hill shootings has an element of racial prejudice?

[photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images/Independent]