The slayings of Razan Abu-Salha, Yusor Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat has convulsed the Muslim-American community as no other event has since September 11, 2001. It is not simply that we see ourselves reflected back in those three beautiful young people. We see our ugliest fears about the United States reflected back–that our college educations and professional degrees cannot keep us safe, that someday, someone will hate us for our faith or our skin color and no amount of American Dream will safeguard us.
Because have no doubt: Whatever the law might find, whatever claims are being bandied about by killers’ wives and North Carolina police departments, Craig Stephen Hicks did not murder Yusor, Deah and Razan merely because of a parking dispute, just as Darren Wilson didn’t kill Mike Brown for walking towards him. We go to such lengths to exculpate white Americans of race-based violence, to spin stories and find excuses, as though we left that era in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. our last casualty. But rub at their races until they turn white, until their headscarves disintegrate under your finger, and you’re staring at young people who still live.
Some have difficulty comprehending this current. For them, the equation falls apart without direct evidence of white hoods, as though racism and xenophobia cannot inform decisions and feelings on a molecular level, sharpen anger, harshen responses. People of color feel it viscerally. We do not cry racism as the boy cried wolf–we call it because it is there, because we face it daily, because it is the bedrock of our everyday interactions. The story is etched in our bones, muscle memory memorialized. The Muslim community cries out that Deah, Yusor and Razan were murdered because of their faith and not a parking dispute because that fear has breathed down our necks. We have watched a petty dispute enflame because of our ethnicity, felt eyes fall on us in a way eyes should fall on no one. If you’ve never felt the air charge electric with menace and fear, it’s easy to reject cries of hate crime as irrational or untrue. Hatred is often invisible to the naked eye even as it vibrates through your body. Because of this ephemerality, the lack of physical evidence hate leaves behind–save for dead brown and black bodies, which are too often excused by tertiary reasons–bigotry-as-cause is tricky to prove by legal standards. Because of that, it is too easily dismissed by the sociopolitical establishment.
But those of us who have never felt that electric fear shiver across our skin should trust communities–Muslim, black, Arab, Asian, LGBTQ, Latino, Native–when they say one of their own was killed because of his race or religion. They know in the way one knows essential truths.
I am done trying to prove to those who cannot see, who refuse to see that the kind of violence being inflicted on people of color today, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Razan, Deah and Yusor is a direct heir of lynchings and the gross violence of our not-so-distant past, of the media game of painting these groups as villains for easy profit. Legal determination that no hate crime occurred does not mean they were not murdered because of their race or religion. Because ultimately, we know. We the people they left behind, who cherish their memories and weep for them as fallen brothers and sisters–we know.
Nimra Azmi is a third-year law student at Harvard Law School. She is a former president of the Harvard Muslim Law Students Association and has previously worked for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.