Obama’s silence on Chapel Hill murders already speaks volumes

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha. (via social media)

Note: This post has been updated with additional information since initial publication.

Update, 12 February: “No specific reaction” from White House

On Wednesday, at the White House press briefing, President Obama’s spokesperson was asked about the administration’s reaction to the Chapel Hill shootings.

“There’s no specific reaction from the White House,” Obama spokesperson Josh Earnest replied.

Earnest added that the White House would await the results of the local police investigation before saying anything, a standard, as I note below, that not been applied in other recent cases of mass violence. In those cases, Obama has strongly condemned killings and offered condolences and federal assistance to local authorities immediately.

Obama’s studied silence continues even as Chapel Hill newspaper The News and Observer reports that thousands came out last night to mourn Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, whose killings, it said, “reverberate around the world.”

Jordan’s foreign ministry has also announced that the Abu-Salha sisters carried Jordanian citizenship.

Original post

Whatever he says, if anything, in the next few hours, US President Barack Obama’s silence so far on the murders of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, last night already speaks volumes.

Once again, Obama is sending the message that racially or religiously motivated violence by white men, against Muslims or people of color, is not his concern and is not a public concern.

He’s demonstrating contempt for Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, who were gunned down last night. (The Facebook page “Our Three Winners” has been set up to pay tribute to the three accomplished young people.)

He’s demonstrating neglect for Muslim Americans left in shock, fear and anguish. Few who have paid attention to the relentlessly rising volume of unchecked Islamophobia will be surprised at these killings. And we cannot ignore the role of the “war on terror” that Obama is escalating once again in stoking hatred of Muslims.

A neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, turned himself in over the shooting. A Facebook page apparently belonging to Hicks examined in detail by The Electronic Intifada contains a relentless stream of anti-religious diatribes going back years, with many posts quoting the notorious British Islamophobic “atheist” Richard Dawkins.

When the alleged perpetrator of a crime is identified as Muslim, far less than this is necessary for media to begin speculating about “terrorist” motives.

Yet absurdly, Chapel Hill police announced: “Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.”

As of this morning, no mainstream media outlets I could see were referring to the murders as a potential act of “terrorism.”

With the 15 April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, however, the label was applied immediately.

Obama, to his slight credit, waited a single day before rushing to judgment that the Boston bombing was indeed a “terrorist” attack and its unknown perpetrators “terrorists.” But he did not wait that long to address a panicked nation and first spoke out about the attack, pledging federal resources within hours.

As I wrote at that time: “It is also important to note the contrast between Obama’s eagerness to label the Boston attack as ‘terror’ and its alleged perpetrators as ‘terrorists’ – without evidence – and his reluctance to label the August 2012 mass murder at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin as ‘terrorism’ despite the identification of the shooter as having a history of white nationalist and supremacist activism.”

Similarly, public intellectual Dr. Cornel West has slammed Obama for “silence” on the murder and oppression of Black Americans by police.

West criticized Obama for sending out condolences on the death of Hollywood actor Robin Williams before acknowledging the police killing in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown.

Obama has no excuse for not speaking

The families of Deah Barakat and Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon urging authorities to investigate the murders as hate crimes (video). Deah’s older sister Suzanne Barakat also gave this powerful and emotional interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Given the national and global attention to this case, and the heightened tensions due to Islamophobia, Obama could have already issued a short statement to the effect that he’s aware of the horrific tragedy, sends condolences for three young Americans, is gathering information and will offer federal assistance to local authorities.

Indeed, that is precisely what Obama did right after the 13 April 2014 shooting at Jewish community center in Kansas City. The president noted that “While we do not know all of the details surrounding today’s shooting, the initial reports are heartbreaking.”

He offered his condolences for the dead and said “I have asked my team to stay in close touch with our federal, state and local partners and provide the necessary resources to support the ongoing investigation.”

Is that too much to ask? Instead there has been silence almost twenty-four hours after the shootings.

White men’s culture and violence

A photo of a gun posted on Facebook by suspected Chapel Hill killer Craig Hicks.

There is a disturbing pattern here that is inescapable yet little discussed, but raised eloquently in a March 2013 Washington Post op-ed by Charlotte Childress and Harriet Childress.

It’s so important, I’m quoting it at length:

Imagine if African American men and boys were committing mass shootings month after month, year after year. Articles and interviews would flood the media, and we’d have political debates demanding that African Americans be “held accountable.” Then, if an atrocity such as the Newtown, Conn., shootings took place and African American male leaders held a news conference to offer solutions, their credibility would be questionable. The public would tell these leaders that they need to focus on problems in their own culture and communities.

But when the criminals and leaders are white men, race and gender become the elephant in the room.

Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years — not just Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson and Columbine — have been committed by white men and boys. Yet when the National Rifle Association (NRA), led by white men, held a news conference after the Newtown massacre to advise Americans on how to reduce gun violence, its leaders’ opinions were widely discussed.

Unlike other groups, white men are not used to being singled out. So we expect that many of them will protest it is unfair if we talk about them. But our nation must correctly define their contribution to our problem of gun violence if it is to be solved.

When white men try to divert attention from gun control by talking about mental health issues, many people buy into the idea that the United States has a national mental health problem, or flawed systems with which to address those problems, and they think that is what produces mass shootings.

But women and girls with mental health issues are not picking up semiautomatic weapons and shooting schoolchildren. Immigrants with mental health issues are not committing mass shootings in malls and movie theaters. Latinos with mental health issues are not continually killing groups of strangers.

Childress and Childress pose these questions in ways we are not used to hearing, when the subjects are white men:

What facets of white male culture create so many mass shootings?

Why are so many white men and boys producing and entertaining themselves with violent video games and other media?

Why do white men buy, sell and manufacture guns for profit; attend gun shows; and demonstrate for unrestricted gun access disproportionately more than people of other ethnicities or races? Why are white male congressmen leading the fight against gun control?

If Americans ask the right questions on gun issues, we will get the right answers. These answers will encourage white men to examine their role in their own culture and to help other white men and boys become healthier and less violent.

Interestingly, Childress and Childress classify the 2009 Fort Hood shooter as a white man. According to US census definitions, they are correct since people of Arab ancestry are officially classified as “caucasian.”

But in fact, unlike mass shooters of European descent, US Army Major Nidal Malik Hassan, who was sentenced to death for killing fourteen fellow soldiers, has widely been called an “Islamic terrorist” by US media and politicians.

Muslims are used to being collectively scapegoated, any and all of them considered accountable for the acts of any other Muslim anywhere in the world. And whereas the actions of white shooters are almost immediately attributed to “mental health” issues, those who happen to be Muslim are always suspected of having religion as their driving motive.

Obama may speak soon and I’ll be watching what he says. But his silence has already sent a disturbing message.

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Your article is designed only to stir up hate. Chapel Hill PD is quoted on many news outlets as taking the possibility of a hate crime very seriously. President Obama has made statements concerning treating Muslims with dignity and respect and has indeed made many Americans mad by doing so. I question your motives on publishing this story as written

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Pointing out that Americans don't seem to take the mass murder of Muslims seriously is "stirring up hate?" The only hate in this case is the White man murdering 3 Muslims because of their religion and all the Americans making excuses for him! This guy is a terrorist. Simple.

By the way, it's a fact that Barack Obama is unusually quiet on this terrorist attack.

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The whole thing is awful, yes, but this article is very accusatory... Maybe it IS too much to ask that Obama issue an immediate statement. OMG not twelve hours!!! ... He helps run a country. He is busy and has a family of his own. For all anyone knows, the second Tuesday of every month is family night no matter what, or maybe he was sick and puking his guts out. Or maybe, you know, he was even asleep?? You never know. Cut him a little slack. None of this makes him heartless or "anti-muslim." I also don't think you should compare a shooting of 3 people to a bombing in the middle of an extremely populated city.

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"I also don't think you should compare a shooting of 3 people to a bombing in the middle of an extremely populated city."

why not? Someone gets really really mad, so mad that they want to kill people. Then they actually do it. Normal healthy people don't, but once in a while, someone goes off the rails. Why does the media call it terrorism when the anger was toward the murdering and suffering that the US is perpetrating every day against actual people (that we don't see as real people), but when the anger was supposedly toward someone taking a parking space, we say oh, that's just a normal crazy white guy letting his testosterone get too high.

It is for this reason that I am glad Ferguson erupted in the US. We see it every day in our communities - the dehumanization of Blacks that results in their actual deaths (!) but nobody was talking about the size of the problem nationally. The media ignored it, but it happened every day. It finally got coverage. Now we need to decolonize our minds and raise Muslims and Blacks and Palestinians to the level of humans, to the level of white men. Their lives matter, but we kill them every day. If we weren't doing this, maybe neither the Boston bombing nor the Chapel Hill murders would have happened.

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>>why not? <<

Because it's not the same thing. Home invasions happen all the time. The POTUS doesn't speak out on all of them.

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"why not? Someone gets really really mad, so mad that they want to kill people. Then they actually do it. . . . . . white guy letting his testosterone get too high.' All that is just incoherent rant.

"It is for this reason that I am glad Ferguson erupted in the US." Really? You are glad is it? "We see it every day in our communities - the dehumanization of Blacks that results in their actual deaths (!) but nobody was talking about the size of the problem nationally." Yup all of America was silent about Ferguson, CNN, MSNBC, ABC/NBC/CBS were silent. Do you also want to sell us beach property in Kansas? "Now we need to decolonize our minds and raise Muslims and Blacks and Palestinians to the level of humans, to the level of white men." Please tell us how much were the 6 Nepalis murdered by the gangs in Malaysia matter. Their bodies just dumped in the back of pickup truck, did they matter. One butchered man not even looked at by police or a ambulance called, how much was his life mattered in that lovely Dar-al-islam? "Their lives matter, but we kill them every day." Pray tell us how many Muslims are killed every day in the US of A. "If we weren't doing this, maybe neither the Boston bombing nor the Chapel Hill murders would have happened." While you are at it why don't you include the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kindnapping of 300 girls by BH, also the use of involuntary child suicide bombers of Boko Haram, also the bombings of the Shiite mosques in Pakistan - did I miss any?

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p.s. it's also interesting that Chapel Hill police told the community that no one was in danger immediately following the shooting. How did they know? In Boston, entire cities were under lockdown and people were led to believe they were in serious danger. I think if we were honest, we would admit that Muslims should be afraid in their own homes in the US right now, and it's no coincidence that the victims in Chapel Hill were refugees of US violence in the middle east and now victims of it here.

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Because in Boston, just to jog your memory, multiple bombs went off during Boston Marathon. It wasn't a random house breakin or burglary followed by murders. I am sure there must have been a few that same day breakins and murders happened. Those did not prompt citywide lockdown. If life is so full of difficulties and terrorization, why don't you survey few other Dar-al-islams and report back, may be you and I can both move there. In the meanwhile stop these melo-dramatic theatrics - it doesn't become a grown person.

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This past Saturday night a retired basketball coach who spent his career at Chapel Hill died. By this time Sunday President Obama had already released an official statement mourning his passing:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-...

Today, the day after three students died in what their survivors call a 'hate crime', silence. The only White House statement that's even remotely related is a request to send US ground troops back to Iraq to wage war against ISIL while invoking the names James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-...

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very curious, what is said and what isn't!
Media could only get statements from residents at the incident saying that no one heard anything and that it was such a nice quiet place to live and only that the family of the victims begged police (for hours!) to let them know whether the victims were dead or not...
However, police responded within minutes ? of the shooting (by 5:15) and had a suspect soon after that. And no mention of parking issues... until hours later after the "cooperative" suspect spent time with police, and they noted one Facebook post by the suspect (from quite a while ago) complaining about someone having sex in a car. Nothing else.
But based upon that, police released statements suggesting the reason for the shooting - according to the shooter, I assume - is NOT biogtry. The police were under no obligation to release any motive at all, and if they were really good communicators, they might have admitted the status of the victims to the family, right? If the bodies were left for hours without leaving for the hospital in an ambulance, you'd think the cops knew they were dead. Why not tell the parents - for hours? If they did go to the hospital, the family would have been getting updates from doctors.
I think it smells of information control and media spin. Even if you believe rage over parking or sex in a vehicle (a while ago!) is all that's required to execute three Muslims inside a home, you have to wonder how the Muslims became the only targets. And regardless of what Obama says, if you read comments on mainstream sites, there are a LOT of people saying they are glad these Muslims are dead. You can't spin that.

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Ali this article is quite ridiculous. Firstly this is not a 'white' crime, the shooter's race is irrelevant, when a 'brown' Muslim blows up a bus or kills a bunch of cartoonists citing religious motivations we do not call it 'brown' terrorism because obviously being brown does not equal Muslim and race was not a relevant factor. Being white does not appear to have been a factor in this man's decision to murder three innocent people and you won't see any 'white people' write articles saying "what happened was awful BUT..." and then go on to blame the victims like many leftists and islamist sympathisers did after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Secondly this does not appear to be a terrorist attack, it looks like a hate crime. Not everything is terrorism.

Lastly Richard Dawkins has never called for violence against anyone and aithism does not advocate violence (or anything else for that matter) so to implicate him in this crime is deplorable. You would not like it if people blamed you for attacks against Jews for your anti-Israel views.

It appears that your intention is to blur the very clear lines between crimes committed by people (of any color or religion) and racially or religiously motivated terrorism.

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When the killer is white, race suddenly becomes irrelevant.

~ No, of course not. Definitely not a terrorist attack. White men are in no way capable of committing those. (Only brown Muslims. Hmm, and maybe those with lighter skin tones too.) White Atheists can't be stupidly held responsible for this. There's no need for any condemnation. #whiteatheistapoligies isn't going to be trending on Twitter. ~

How nice it is to be a white Atheist man.
...(Or even just a white man.)

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More mindless drivel, parroted by a racist White against the latest innocent victims of Islamaphobia, which is currently in style among Fox News viewers and similarly brainwashed bigoted sheep. Not worthy of additional comment, I just pity their ignorance.

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Can we not talk about "white men" like the media talks about us muslims? Instead lets address the issue at hand. 3 young people died with a very bright future ahead. We are outraged because we see so much of ourselves in them. But its inappropriate to use their death to stir up more hate.

Ali Abunimah's picture

White men are the only group we’re not allowed to talk about as a group, apparently. Just as the article I cite says. Why is this?

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That is simply not true. You act as if the media talks about 'brown people' as some kind of group, they don't. 'White people' don't share any particular set of beliefs in the same way as people of other races don't share the same beliefs/values. This is not a racial issue so stop trying to make it one. You are using this tradgedy as an excuse to bash 'white people' and atheists.

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White people DO share a belief....it was penned down beautifully as 'white mans burden'. The missionaries, the do gooders, the colonists painted as heroes for going out to 'discover' a new world and finding it already found set out to civilize the 'heathens'. That asinine mind set is STILL ever present, it's the motif for every Hollywood block buster, it's the theme for every bill gates foundationesque documentary....Blah blah blah. I can't even say the message has become more subtle or subliminal...it's as racist and disgusting as it was centuries ago. And the white man in his arrogant 'high horse' will never ever stop defending it long enough to even vilify their victims point of view. So yes...it IS racism and white privilege DOES exist.

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Exactly.

Let's not give any passes to racist remarks just because the racist isn't white. This is nothing other than a way to make it something that it isn't.

There were three young people murdered by some guy who happens to be white and happens to be an anti-theist which is a slight bit different than an atheist by the way.

If he did kill them for being Muslim that's unacceptable (killing them at all is but I hope you know what I mean) but it is not the same as setting off backpack bombs int he middle of a crowded public event.

Both are horrible but one is a hate crime and the other is terrorism. Lest anyone think I wouldn't call a white guy a terrorist because...white guy, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kazinsky (sp?) etc.

It's not religion or skin color defining whether something is a hate crime or terrorism, it is the actual act(s) committed.

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Just because we are used to be marginalized and demonized in the media doesn't mean we should do this as well. Its exactly because we know what it means to paint a whole group with one brush that we should be avoiding making the same mistake.

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let's talk about white men
Obama is one, by the way - his entire family was white, and he went to the wealthiest white schools growing up. He has no idea what it is to be oppressed.
He heads up the white men club that tromps on darker folks in all our cities, not just Ferguson, and feeds the white men beers on the White House lawn for it. His Black wife should dump his ass! All those White House women are sell-outs.
White men think they own the planet. They torture and pillage and lie and rape and teach the young to do it for them. It was in Afghanistan where they raped and killed and burned the bodies, same as Vietnam. Here they inject chemicals into the less fortunate to watch them suffer and die. Everywhere they drop horrible weapons on the non-whites, their families and children. The superiority complex that white men have over Blacks here allows them to murder them every day without recourse, and NBC news (Williams) claimed that white men were the victims of hurricane Katrina... give that white guy a raise!
The police in Chapel Hill know how it works, just like in Oroville, California. And everywhere else. There is far more to it than is discussed, so it's good to talk about it. It's time.

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We need to talk about stopping the killing of innocent people by hateful people. to do that, we need to talk about all the ramifications of this horrible killing of three bright, loving people who could have given so much to the world. The person who killed them has been described as being angry all the time. He threatened these people prior to this killing. There is no reason not to believe this was a hate crime. We need to stop the killing.

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The President's silence on the murder should indeed be an outrage, but it's disappointing to me on another level to see Ali Abunimah, whom I admired until today, corrupting the EI's support of global justice by endorsing the explicit racism and sexism of the quoted Washington Post editorial. The editorial says that "white men are not used to being singled out," but in fact we're quite used to it, being the only demographic whom it's societally acceptable to make the target of overtly race- and gender-based violence and discrimination (and hate speech, as the article's publication demonstrates). I hope that Abunimah will lose the support of other white men who have promoted his work up to this point, although I hope those men don't abandon the Palestinian cause because of him.

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I don't quite understand how the white male population is the "only demographic whom it's societally acceptable to make the target of overtly race- and gender-based violence and discrimination". Um, wow.

But anyway, I would suggest you have a read of this: http://mediadiversified.org/20...

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Sometimes I feel that criticism of this sort lets the miss daisies off the hook. It is my understanding that most black women are inclined to view the racial oppression they experience as more significant than gender based discrimination. As a a white man, I have experienced white privilege in many forms. As a West Virginian white privilege has not been all that comforting- for those outside of the United States who visit this site, we are populated mostly by Scots-Irish, but even we are not quite white enough as we are often lambasted for our supposed lack of culture. So while the white male thing is a little more complicated than it is made out to be, I would rather be called a Hillbilly. I generally find the non-white communities here as generally receptive of me and my family, and as a result we visited the Selena museum when we were in San Antonia, the African American museum when I was in LA, and the Arab-American Museum when we were in Dearborn.

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The question to be asked, is focusing on this going to end racist Zionism or get the ethnically cleansed of Palestine back to their homes any sooner?

Yes it is tempting to go into how weak minded deranged idiots are easily swayed to commit horrible crimes by the words and actions of banal unprincipled money grubbing evil slimes such as Abraham Foxman, Alan Dershowitz, David Horowitz, Pamela Geller, etc, etc. But what is the point?

We should focus first and foremost on the issue of Palestine. The sooner we deal correcting the situation in Palestine the sooner we put the aforementioned parties "out of business. "

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I understand Ali's comments and we may all ask, How did this violence happen in Chapel Hill (or Rwanda or Palestine or Sierra Leone)? From a historical perspective I find the article to be true in many respects in that : "as argued by Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, race is a construct of empire; it is a mechanism of control conveniently imagined by Western scholars to justify the inferiorisation and subjugation of natives in the ‘new’ lands that were encountered by European explorers. Had not the White European race been constructed as superior over all others, racism as we know it would not exist."http://mediadiversified.org/20...
But, imo, even that is a superficial explanation and does not get to the heart of the problem---which is fear and greed. Fear is often used by those with a hegemonic agenda to unify their group against "the other". "As fear increased [in Sierra Leone and Rwanda], people narrowed their multiple identities(such as father...musician) down to just one---whether and ethnic group,,,, a religious sect [Muslim, Jew, atheist] ,,,a political party. Instead of seeing what they had in common, or what connected them, they saw only how they were different and what separated them.(...it was not so much religion that drove conflict as the human tendency toward dualistic and polarizing patterns of thinking)...As with all destructive conflicts, the aggressors...first stereotype and then dehumanize "the others."" From "God and Conflict" by Philip Hellmich.
Regarding Obama, why expect a moral and humanitarian response from one whose actions have demonstrated the antithesis of these qualities? A person cannot give to others what he does not possess within himself.
I hope that we will work together to expand our identities so that we can finally embrace our common humanity.

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I've contacted Answer Coalition to see if a solidarity march for the 3 young victims of this hate crime can be included in the protests taking place in Washington, DC from Feb 28---March 3 to “Shut Down AIPAC’ and protest Netanyahu's speech. I don't know if I'll receive a response, but if I do, I'll post it. If anyone knows of a separate event taking place to protest this hate crime, would you please post it?
http://www.answercoalition.org...