Crime

Brother of slain UNC student praises Obama’s mention of Muslims in Chapel Hill

Deah Barakat, 23, (left) his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21,(center) and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.
Deah Barakat, 23, (left) his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21,(center) and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.

Farris Barakat was not surprised that President Barack Obama mentioned the shootings of Barakat’s brother Deah, sister-in-law Yusor and her sister Razan in his emotional appeal this week for support of his executive action on gun controls.

When the president outlined his plan to better define who should be licensed as a gun dealer and required to conduct background checks, he talked about his hopes to move beyond the typical political divide over the issue.

“All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important – Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well,” Obama said. “And we have to be able to balance them. Because our right to worship freely and safely – that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.”

Nearly a year has passed since the Feb. 10 evening in 2015 that Chapel Hill police found Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, dead inside a condominium on the eastern edge of town.

Nearly a year has passed since the Feb. 10 evening in 2015 that Chapel Hill police found Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, dead inside a condominium on the eastern edge of town.

Craig Hicks, an unemployed community college student who lived next door and kept a stash of guns in his home at 270 Summerwalk Circle, was arrested that night. Hicks, who has been jailed for 331 days, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors have announced their plans to pursue the death penalty in that case.

This week, Durham District Attorney Roger Echols, who will prosecute the case because it occurred in a part of Chapel Hill that’s in Durham County, said he expected there to be a pretrial hearing in the case in February. He declined to discuss specifics.

News about the violent deaths of the three college-aged Muslims spread quickly on social media, as did questions about whether a motive for the killings was religious bias.

In court documents and hearings, investigators have contended that Hicks, a neighbor of Deah Barakat and his wife, shot and killed the couple and her sister amid a long-simmering parking dispute. Search warrants from the case show that Hicks kept pictures and detailed notes on parking activity in the condominium complex. Neighbors and family of the victims have said he also patrolled the parking lot often with a gun on his hip.

In a telephone interview Friday, Farris Barakat took a break from working on The Light House Project, an effort to turn a property his brother had in downtown Raleigh into a hub of community activity.

The goal is to use the home at 202 N. Tarboro St. for collaborative study, meetings, social entrepreneurship and more. The three killed in the Chapel Hill shooting have been recognized in many ways for their community-mindedness with numerous projects honoring them and a hashtag on Twitter: #OurThreeWinners.

Farris Barakat, who has chosen to honor his brother’s memory by contributing to such positive projects, said that “in a sense,” the Chapel Hill shootings, which prompted a #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, was “the story of the year for Muslims.”

The rights to religious freedom and to freedom of assembly continue to be threatened by gun-wielding radicals.

Farris Barakat, brother of Chapel Hill shooting victim Deah Barakat

Though he said it will become clearer after the trial whether the killings were prompted by religious bias, he was glad that Obama mentioned “Muslims in Chapel Hill,” while talking about the right to worship freely in this society. He posted a response on his Facebook page afterward.

“Despite a proud tradition of gun ownership rights in this country, we must accept that few have abused this responsibility and with tragic consequences,” Farris Barakat stated in his three-paragraph post. “The Second Amendment right must be afforded to every American, but the responsibility of ownership should be limited to those who will not abuse it.”

“Those who blindly counter any measure of gun control should realize that their efforts are a misguided push to blindly protect their second amendment rights at the cost of violating the rights of others that are equally important, if not more so,” Barakat stated further. “The inalienable rights of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness are continuously stripped from victims and their communities. The rights to religious freedom and to freedom of assembly continue to be threatened by gun-wielding radicals.”

“We’re okay regulating drivers licenses because we consider a car to be a weapon,” Barakat concluded. “Why don’t we consider weapons to be a weapon?”

Barakat has received some feedback to his post. But in an effort to promote understanding, not further division – about guns, religion and more – Barakat prefers to listen to those who disagree with him and then try to explain why he thinks what he thinks or worships how he worships.

What troubles him, he said, are politicians who take a stand on behalf of lobbyists and turn a deaf ear to others.

“They should not be acting on behalf of a few,” Barakat said.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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