Chapel Hill: Opinion

Saunders: No matter the motive, a tragic loss for humanity

In the end, does it even matter?

Did Deah Shaddy Barakat; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, die because of a hate crime?

Or just a hateful one?

Either way, humanity has lost three people who seemed poised to make the world a better place.

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of the two young women, insisted it was a hate crime and said his daughter had complained of harassment by Craig Stephen Hicks, who turned himself in to police after the fatal shootings Tuesday.

“Honest to God, she said, ‘He hates us for what we are and how we look,’ ” Dr. Abu-Salha told The News & Observer.

Samantha Maness, who lives across the parking lot about 50 yards from the victims’ and Hicks’ condos, didn’t know the victims, but she was familiar with the man who confessed to the shootings.

Hicks “was aggressive when it came to things like noise” and parking, and he displayed “equal opportunity anger toward the residents here,” Maness said.

“There were times when I was definitely afraid of him,” she said.

Residents of the condominium complex had met, she said, to talk about the menace they considered Hicks to be. Every entrance at the complex has a sign that reads “Stickered Vehicles Only – Towing Enforced.”

Hicks, who reportedly called tow trucks on cars he deemed improperly parked, was apparently vigilant about enforcement. On Tuesday, he may have become a vigilante.

Evil, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, is often banal, driven sometimes by no more than a homicidal rage at a perceived slight, at a misinterpreted look, at someone – believe it or not – taking your parking space.

Potential for good

Look at the potential goodness that Deah, 23, a doctoral student at the UNC School of Dentistry; Yusor, 21; and Razan, 19, could have brought forth into the world. No one wants to think that we could be deprived of so much promise simply because an unhinged neighbor possibly objected to how or where they parked their cars.

Oh yes, their cars. In one, a Volkswagen Jetta parked outside the apartment where the three family members died, was a box of toothbrushes and mouthwash, possibly earmarked for Syria. Or across town.

When I told Dr. Eric Rivera, an associate professor of dentistry at UNC, about the dental supplies in the backseat, he laughed.

‘Here and abroad’

“He was always interested in serving the indigent population, here and abroad,” Rivera said. “He was planning a trip to Syria to help people with a need for dental care. It was really wonderful to see and experience how he has touched so, so many people’s lives.”

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, several students and faculty members gathered at the dentistry school to remember Barakat.

“There were,” Rivera said later that day, “fourth-year dental students who talked about the way he had touched them.

“He would go and introduce himself. With a hug. Always with a hug. He was the kind who would come up to a dental hygienist student and say, ‘Hey, how are y’all doing? What are you doing?’... It was awesome just to see.

“The overriding message that came from the gathering,” Rivera said, was “Don’t match the hate with hate. Match the hate with love.”

That’s asking a lot, regardless of whether the deaths resulted from an angry, armed man who took a hateful “Hey you kids, get out of my parking space” attitude to homicidal lengths, or from an attitude of “Hey you brown kids, get out of my country.”

If the deaths resulted from a hate crime, it is an international tragedy.

If the deaths came simply because a man was consumed with a general hate for all humanity – heck, then it’s still an international tragedy. Because people all over the world have now been deprived of the services Deah, Yusor and Razan would have rendered unto them.