The murder of three young men in Fort Wayne, Indiana last week has left many Muslim Americans reeling — and it has also once again brought to the forefront the little attention given to violence against black bodies in the United States.
Many Muslim and black Americans who gathered at a vigil for the three men in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday noted that the violence faced by people at the intersection of anti-blackness and Islamophobia in the United States is often ignored by both the media and the general public.
“Islamophobia now means the lion is trying to eat you,” activist and writer Tariq Touré told the crowd at Dupont Circle. “And what have black Muslims been saying? ‘The lion’s coming. Listen to me, the lion’s coming. It’s your turn.’ So if anything we see [with] these three young men dying, that we need to have solidarity.”
Mohamedtaha Omar, 23, Adam K. Mekki, 20, and Muhannad A. Tairab, 17, were shot “execution style” at a local hangout spot in Fort Wayne on February 24, but their deaths only attracted attention in mainstream media outlets days later, and have still received no response from local politicians. Omar and Tairab were Muslim, while Mekki was Christian, but all three men came from east African families.
Police have ruled out the possibility of a hate crime, based on either race or religion, but they have yet to find a motive for the shootings.
Investigation of triple homicide is still very active and ongoing but determined to have not been a hate crime.
— Fort Wayne Police (@FortWaynePolice) February 29, 2016
The motive may still be unclear, but many Muslims are pointing to the rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. as one possible answer for the shooting.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Vice News that the shooting in Fort Wayne was similar to the murder of three Muslim American students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina one year ago, even if one of the victims in Fort Wayne was Christian.
“Bigots not being brain surgeons, they wouldn’t necessarily make that distinction,” he said. “We have Hispanic people who are routinely discriminated against because they are seen as Arab or Muslim, and Sikhs killed because people think they’re Muslim because they wear a turban and a beard.”
But while the story of the victims in Chapel Hill was covered the same day, it took four days for the story of the victims in Fort Wayne to be picked up by a national outlet, and local politicians have still not commented. Since the shooting, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) has condemned the vandalization of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) headquarters in Plainfield, called for a stay on Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana, and even commented at the Annual Black Male Youth Day at the Statehouse. He has yet to make a comment on the murder of the three men in Fort Wayne, however. President Obama, who commented on the Chapel Hill shooting three days after it took place, has similarly still not commented on the victims in Fort Wayne.
That silence has been deafening for many black Muslim Americans, including family and friends of the victims.
“Even if they weren’t killed because of their faith or skin or nationality, the reaction to their deaths is a direct result of these factors,” wrote a cousin of two of the victims in a Facebook post four days after the shooting. “They were good boys, but what the hell kind of people only mourn deaths if lives were lived according to their standard? What the hell kind of people only mourn people if they look and live and pray like them?”
“In the past five days, there’s been some very loud silence in our media, in our government, and in our communities about what happened to our brothers. For those of us grieving, this silence echoes,” she wrote again on February 29. “They were good people. But they are not worth mourning because they were good, they are worth mourning because they were human. Death does not discriminate, and neither should we. We can not value some lives over others. We can not mourn selectively.”
Those sentiments were echoed at a candlelight vigil in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, where people gathered to remember the victims.
— ilana alazzeh (@ilanasart) March 2, 2016
“Don’t let these three young men’s lives become just another hashtag, become just another story we told this week of people dying. Because when that happens, more people die,” April Renée Goggans, a Black Lives Matter DMV activist, told the crowd. “Islamophobia is real. Islamophobia, along with anti-blackness in this country, is a death sentence for many.”
African Americans and Muslim Americans often face discrimination and violence. A PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll from 2015 found that 58 percent of Americans said that race relations in the United States have worsened in the last year — unsurprising given stark racial disparities in criminal justice, wages and employment, and even health care. Since November, ThinkProgress has also found at least 69 incidents in which Muslims and non-Muslims have been victims of Islamophobia and have been subject to shootings, personal assaults, harassment, and attacks on their houses of worship.
At the time of writing, a petition on MPower Change calling for a “full and comprehensive investigation” of the shooting of the three men had gained nearly 12,000 signers.