Students and faculty discuss Chapel Hill shooting while exploring the issues of race and religion

Three students at the University of North Carolina, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were shot on Feb. 11 following a disagreement with their neighbor. The alleged shooter, Craig Hicks, has been indicted on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling on Monday, Feb. 16. Due to the Muslim faith of the victims and anti-religious sentiments expressed on Hicks’s Facebook page, there is an ongoing investigation to decide whether or not the crime was motivated by hate.

“[The] essential question posed by political science is questions of justice,” said chair of political science David Crockett. “We all want to guard our group, but when it comes to the question of criminal justice, you want to be just toward both the victims and the accused.”

In North Carolina, there is an ethnic intimidation law, which can lead to increased sentences for certain misdemeanors. However, the state does not have hate crime laws””instead, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a parallel investigation of the shooting to determine whether or not the federal government would try Hicks for hate crime charges. Given that Hicks was indicted on three counts of first-degree murder in North Carolina, he already faces potential sentences of life without parole or the death penalty.

There are times when the hate crime classification is not sought due to the fact that the maximum sentences have already been reached without them, which Hicks already faces due to North Carolina’s sentencing for first-degree murder. Classifying the crime as a hate crime is further complicated by the involvement of the disagreement over parking that had been ongoing up until the shooting.

Hate crimes require that the case be proven as motivated by hatred for actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The fact that such different narratives exist around the shooting is to be discussed,” said Habiba Noor, professor of religion. “Some people think we are living [in a country] past race and discrimination, and others are very aware of discrimination.”

Further investigation into whether or not the crime is a hate crime has in part been driven by the protests of members of the Muslim community and statements from Dr. Muhammad Yousif Abu-Salha, the father of Yusor and Razan and father-in-law of Barakat. Noor explained that two of the major mosques in San Antonio have made statements at sermons regarding the shooting, and that it has deeply affected the community.

The shooting, and discussion about Islamophobia in the United States, comes following several recent events, including the burning of a mosque in Houston in early February and anti-Muslim protests of the biennial Texas Muslim Capitol Day in January.

“I think it is good in student discourse to ask and make people clarify,” Crockett said. “The nature of the guilt could differ, but we have to find that out.”

The alleged shooter was indicted for three counts of first-degree murder last week, and further investigation into the case remains ongoing. However, the discussion of hate crimes in the United States and views of Muslim Americans continues.

“I feel very hopeful for students like those at Trinity,” Noor said. “I don’t feel like this is a left or right issue. People have this desire to sort through narratives, and they want to know.”