Mainstream media outlets that describe an alleged murderer as a lover of dogs are a problem. Many news outlets will tell viewers that the suspect who allegedly shot and killed three young Muslim-American college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina was a normal, caring family man. These claims about a supposed murderer ought not to be publicized for fear that they paint the accused in too favorable a light. One must take into account the media’s portrayal of the accused when crafting an opinion on this event.
Three young Muslim-Americans were shot and killed inside their apartment on Feb. 10. The suspect, 46-year-old Craig Hicks, turned himself in shortly after. While authorities initially cited an ongoing parking dispute as the reason for the attack, relatives of the victims and social justice advocates around the world believe the act to be a religious hate crime.
The media has failed to properly report on the massacre, exacerbating the problem of excluding straight, white men from the category of “terrorist.” Would the media provide broader coverage of this story if the victims were white and the shooter was Muslim? The fact that the “#ChapellHillShooting” Twitter hashtag was nine times more popular than hashtag “#MUSLIMLIVESMATTER” suggests some national cognitive dissonance of shame, sympathy, awareness and exposure.
The fact that this attack is senseless and beyond horrible is obvious. This heinous assault in which three individuals were murdered—reportedly via gunshots to the head—could not have been motivated simply by a parking dispute.
Government investigative forces are currently trying to identify if hate was a motivating factor to the shooting. They have discovered a man who has expressed a shared hatred for all religions, citing himself as an atheist and a supporter of individual freedoms. Does his reported hatred and mistrust for all religions render that hatred neutral?
The media may discard it in a conversation about Islamophobia because it could be interpreted as anti-religiosity. We should acknowledge that because this type of dialogue surrounds this massacre, there must already be a present issue with hate crimes and religious prejudice in our country that needs to be addressed.
Ultimately, this isn’t an issue that involves debating gun laws or criminalizing any conservative or liberal views. There are between five and 12 million Muslims living in America and roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and our country needs to learn how to make peace with those numbers––and more importantly, those people. Only with greater compassion can we do away with these targeted attacks and the need to politicize tragedies when they do occur.
[Editor’s note: The Geneseo Social Justice Clubs will be hosting a discussion on the Chapel Hill Shootings and how they relate to the larger context of Islamophobia on Friday Feb. 20 in Bailey 102. The discussion will be followed by a vigil.]