Healing After #ChapelHillShooting

Until Yusor Abu-Salha, her husband Deah Barakat and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, three young people who practice the Muslim faith, were shot to death on February 10, 2015 in Chapel Hill, many of us likely had not thought much about Islamophobia or that our community, one of the most liberal in the state, might harbor such sentiments. But we are not immune, as a search for the hashtag #NotsafeUNC will bare out. For example, at the time of these murders, I was teaching a course at UNC that happened to have two Muslim students enrolled. They were both close friends of the young people who were murdered. As my TAs and I worked to accommodate our students’ need to grieve and deal with the fear brought on by these hate killings, we heard that not all Muslim students at UNC were met with compassion.

Since February, the white man responsible has been caught, students have left for the summer and the reporting on the aftermath of these killings has gone silent, making it seem that any response to the murders is over. Recently, however, I was in Raleigh at a program on anti-Islamophobia and anti-racism and got to talking to the gentleman seated next to me. He turned out to be a leader with the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR) and wanted to let me know how appreciative he was of the efforts our town had been making in the wake of the murders.

I’d heard immediately following the murders that some community meetings were planned, but further details have not been widespread. So, I asked. Chief Blue let me know that he has been attending meetings at the IAR and that one of our police officers worships there. This officer has been talking with IAR youth about community relations with law enforcement.

Mayor Kleinschmidt also let me know what his office has been doing. In collaboration with the Mayor’s office, our Ombuds’ office has been facilitating discussions with Muslim representatives in our community, representatives from the Chapel Hill Police Department, UNC, the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, and the North Carolina Disaster Response Network.  A steering committee, called the Steering Committee for Muslim Inclusion, Engagement, & Safety, has been formed with the goals of fostering a welcoming community that provides a sense of safety for our Muslim neighbors.

One plan is for a Triangle American Muslim Festival in the coming year similar to Fiesta del Pueblo to help residents learn more about Islam including culture, food, customs, clothing, colors, and music. In addition, Mayor Kleinschmidt, in conjunction with the Chapel Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, is planning a small business roundtable this summer for Muslim business owners to learn about their experiences and whether there are ways our community can make them feel safer. Many are convenience store owners with no control over who walks in their front door. The goal is to provide these business owners with easy access to resources to help them stabilize volatile situations that may arise with Islamophobic customers.

Other plans to tackle Islamophobia in our community are also underway. UNC’s Playmaker’s Repertory Company will stage ‘Disgraced’ from September 16th to October 4th. This play focuses on a Pakistani-American lawyer who has distanced himself from his Muslim heritage. The Chapel Hill Public Library is planning a second in their “Between the Lines” Community Conversation series (the first focused on the ‘King & King’ children’s book), this time focused on Islam. This Community Conversation is scheduled for late September. The Steering Committee for Muslim Inclusion, Engagement, & Safety is planning an accompanying service event tied to the Between the Lines conversation. Last, the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools is convening an Equity Task Force to address bullying of children who practice the Muslim faith.

I will continue to provide updates here about related events in our community as more information becomes available.


Molly, As a candidate for Chapel Hill Mayor, I agree with you, that is why  as mayor I hope  we can make a statement of how united as a community we are, I pledge and I hope I can work with the community  at the towns Christmas tree lighting  we have symbols in addition to the tree, a Monorah to celebrate Chanukah, and the lights to celebrate Kawanza as well. Gary Kahn


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