The murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina by their neighbor, a white male with vocal anti-theist leanings, instantly alarmed those in the Arab American community. But early coverage demonstrated indifference to the crime, and it took hours of social media users questioning media intentions until news outlets across the country started broadcasting details of the triple murder.
After the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent decisions by a state jury and the U.S. Department of Justice to not indict Officer Darren Wilson, #BlackLivesMatter became a rallying cry of justice for Brown and now Georgian Anthony Hill, who was also unarmed. Likewise, in the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shooting last month, the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter became a powerful amendment to #BlackLivesMatter and intersected the experiences of both groups fighting for similar causes.
The emergence of #BlackLivesMatter, #LatinoLivesMatter and #MuslimLivesMatter–calling for equal attention to lives lost at the hand of bigotry–begs the question: How much longer will non-whites have to prove their worth in this ‘melting pot’ of a country?
Local authorities declared a long-standing parking dispute as Craig Stephen Hicks’ motive to barge into their home and shoot them each in the head. If the roles were reversed, surely the phrase ‘terrorist attack’ would be plastered in every corner of mainstream coverage and politics.
The hypocrisy also shows through the death of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Their humanity went on trial before anything else, with questions like “why was Brown jaywalking?” and “why was Martin out at night with his hoodie on?” more present than “why did local authorities let an untrained yet armed Zimmerman patrol a residential area?”
But the deaths of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, her new husband Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, all of Palestinian descent, didn’t fit a typical narrative. Three Muslim college students involved in charity work attacked in their homes by an anti-theist–who they once described to their family as hateful and noted that he had gun when they spoke–somehow didn’t ring many media alarms until it was deemed interesting enough.
Hicks has already been indicted for the murders and federal authorities have launched a separate investigation, but hate crimes are notoriously hard to prove. That leaves the correct number of attacks on someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation or identity unknown and difficult to truly acknowledge the problem.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, hate crimes against Muslims in America still occur at around 100-150 per year, or 5 times greater than the rate before 9/11. In addition, those wearing hijabs have reportedly been afraid to continue displaying their faith in fear of being targeted.
Ahmed al-Jumaili, a Muslim man who escaped the violence of his native Iraq for peace in America, was fatally shot on March 4 at random within a month of arriving in Dallas while watching snow fall for the first time. No arrests have been made.
While it’s easier to argue over the color of a dress than why a white man barged into the home of three young Muslim people and shot them in the head, it’s a conversation that must be had—and that the media has the power to fuel. News outlets can either understand the messages amplified on social media and consistently draw equal attention to these lives stolen by racial and religious stereotyping or end up on the wrong side of history.