Short Version: Hicks Guilty, Camps Get Literal

A view from the back of the neck

Quick update on two stories:

Chapel Hill Shooting

Today in North Carolina, the man who killed three Muslim students — sisters Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha, and Yusor’s newlywed husband, Deah Barakat — in February 2015 finally faced a measure of justice.

The basic facts have never been in dispute: Craig Stephen Hicks showed up at Yusor and Deah’s condo in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Razan was visiting for dinner, and shot his three unarmed young neighbors to death. Today’s hearing, in which Hicks pleaded guilty to all three murders and an additional count of discharging a weapon indoors, was really about the victims’ families getting a chance to wrest back a narrative that officials and much of the media initially got wrong, and millions of others still refuse to get right.

Immediately after the shooting, Chapel Hill police announced the shootings may have been the result of a “parking dispute.” This was based on an error—their misunderstanding of Hicks’ own, lie-filled confession. But even as the evidence—some, humbly, compiled by yours truly!—showed how deeply wrong that was, many (mostly white, non-Muslim) Americans clung to that explanation like Linus’ blanket.

(… as if “parking” was a reasonable explanation for a triple homicide. The fact that the murder was made possible by Hicks’ arsenal of thirteen guns, including a loaded AR-15 at home, and a concealed carry permit, didn’t seem to enter into the national conversation at all.)

All those questions were put to rest in a packed courtroom. Prosecutors showed a suppressed video of the murders themselves—which Barakat had filmed in hopes of gathering evidence of Hicks’ ongoing pattern of harassment against the young couple in particular and neighbors of color in general.

The video is as clear as it was horrifying: Hicks bangs on the door and shouts something brief and incorrect about the number of cars the couple and their visiting sister had parked in the lot. Barakat tries to respond. Hicks accuses him of disrespect and shoots him in the gut multiple times from the porch. Then he walks into the house. For 36 nauseating seconds, we heard Razan and Yusor screaming and pleading for their lives, silenced—according to forensics—by direct gunshot wounds to their heads. Then Hicks comes back and shoots the prone Barakat in the face at close range.

According to Hicks’ own testimony to police, he then went back outside and reloaded.

Parking rules were just a pretext for Hicks’ rage. Prosecutors said he often flashed his weapon at neighbors of color and shouted racial epithets. In fact, Barakat and Abu-Salha had been scrupulous in following not only the homeowners’ association’s actual parking rules but Hicks’ made-up rules as well, out of fear of provoking him. Ultimately anything could have set him off.

As it happened, I found myself sitting inches from Hicks in the courtroom, staring at the pale, hairy back of his neck as the details were recounted. The most powerful moments came as family members of the victims confronted him, one by one, quoting the Qu’ran and calling for peace. They also called on Chapel Hill police to come out and assertively correct the record about what happened to their loved ones.

Hicks was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in prison without possibility of parole. He had apparently wanted the death penalty. The judge explained it wasn’t up to him.

It was a hell of a day. I’ll have more on that, and how it fits into a broader context, coming up.

Concentration Camps

I wrote recently about the importance of calling Trump’s concentration camps what they are. I then adapted that into an op-ed for the LA Times (and am happy to say was the paper’s most-read web story last weekend), and also talked about it on San Francisco radio with KGO 810’s Pat Thurston.

The pieces got a mostly good response, with some less favorable fan mail mixed in. (Shoutout to the gentleman who emailed to say I was a “Corrupt Fascist Cunt” and “The Spawn of Hitler.” Irony isn’t dead, folks!)

In case anyone is still confused about what’s going on, the Trump administration has decided to clarify things a bit: the Department of Health and Human Services just announced that it will be housing 1,400 children at a literal former internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II: Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

As just about everyone who’s reported this has noted, Obama also put thousands of children trying to immigrate to the United States at Fort Sill for four months in 2014. So, be sure to keep an eye on Fort Sill, and see if Trump meets or breaks that record! Another thing that warrants more scrutiny is that, unlike under Obama, migrant children have been dying regularly in Trump’s custody.

More soon.

(Photo credit: Yours truly)