[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he informed debate from Chapel Hill in the aftermath of the triple murder goes something like this: Did Craig Hicks kill three people in their apartment because they were Muslim, which would be a hate crime, or did he kill three people in their apartment because of a parking dispute, which would subtract hate from the narrative and replace it with insanity. We are familiar with road rage, but parking rage belongs in an entirely different category.
But there’s another question, and one that should be at the heart of the debate: Did three people — whatever their religion — end up dead in their Chapel Hill apartment because the killer was not only an angry, confrontational man, but also because he was an angry, confrontational man who carried a gun to the confrontation.
Whatever the reason – and why should we suppose there was only one reason; are life or death really ever so simple? — this seems like the same old American story, if one with a few unusual twists. We aren’t usually faced with an accused murderer who is also a militant atheist fond of posting anti-religion screeds on Facebook and who, when not on the computer, plays the role of apartment parking-lot cop.
[pullquote]Whether hate crime or insanity or both, we can be pretty sure of what comes next: Absolutely nothing.[/pullquote]
That Hicks calls himself a gun-toting liberal doesn’t seem to fit any narrative, except that it allows everyone to place him in some camp that is not their own. But much else about the story seems all too predictable.
For instance, that Hicks posted a photograph of his loaded .38 revolver on Facebook only three weeks before the murders.
And that an ex-wife has said Hicks’ favorite movie is “Falling Down,” about a beleaguered man who goes on a shooting rampage in Los Angeles. She told the AP that he watched it over and over, laughing as he did.
And that, according to neighbors and to a father of two of the victims, when Hicks had come on previous occasions to the apartment to complain, he came with a gun on his belt. It’s apparently legal to open-carry in North Carolina. It’s legal unless you use the gun to terrorize and then murder three people who happen to be Muslim or because they are Muslim.
We don’t need to know too much more to figure out that this is another example of that place where guns and a disturbed mind intersect.
The police and the U.S. attorney have quickly come to the conclusion that the murders are not about religion and that if there’s a hate crime, it’s a hate-people-who-don’t-follow-condominium-parking-rules crime. It doesn’t make sense. As Philip Gourevitch writes in the New Yorker, we “are being urged to consider this murderer as a figure of all-embracing American assimilation — a man who did not care who they were but hated them as he would hate anyone and everyone, equally and without fear or favor, for the way they parked.”
What we know is that authorities say Hicks entered the home of recently married Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Abu-Salha’s sister Razan and shot them all dead. According to family members, each was shot in the head.
Many inside, and outside, the Muslim community are convinced that the three young people were killed because they were Muslim. No one can be surprised by this. It’s the logical conclusion. Hicks was angry about religion — yes, all religions — but this was the religion that rubbed its head scarf in his face, or at least in his line of sight, every day. And though Hicks may have confronted many neighbors, only three are dead, and the 5,000 mourners who gathered in Raleigh for their funeral Thursday were told to reject the hate that the killings represented.
But if the parking lot story seems incredible, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. It’s impossible to believe only if you can explain dozens of other killings that seem to make no sense. We reject the parking lot story because it seems illogical, but the truth is that the lack of logic may be the only thing about it that makes sense.
It may well be that this is about a parking dispute inflamed by anti-Islam hostility or anti-Islam feeling inflamed by a parking dispute. We don’t really know. We can’t quite believe that the cops really know either.
Here’s what we can safely guess: Whether this about an anti-Muslim hate crime or about a man driven by inexplicable rage, we can be pretty sure of what comes next. We will be told that, whatever else, we should ignore the fact that an angry, confrontational man used a gun — one he wears on his belt or displays on Facebook — to put an end to three lives. We know this because that’s how these stories always end.
[Photo: “Going to the Boardwalk” by Violette79.]