Stolen Lives, Hateful Crimes

By: zehra imam                 Edited by: Raldenys Tolentino

Special thanks to Illuminated youth for their input and advice with this piece.

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Deah Barakat, 23.

Yusor Abu-Salha, 21.

Razan Abu-Salha, 19.

These are the names and ages of the three young people who died last night, execution style. They were shot in the head, and it was a hate crime (though the FBI is not investigating it as such, as I write this).

As a high school educator in New York City and as someone who works in collaboration with young people on the Illuminated Cities Project (ICP), I think about how to best serve young people every single day. Today, I couldn’t talk about this incident because no one in my school knew about it when I brought it up. But, as I slowly processed it throughout the day during Algebra class, during clips of Romeo and Juliet, during Literacy Enrichment, I had the same hollow, sickening feeling that I had when I heard about the 2013 hate crime against Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh professor at Columbia University, who inspired our work at Illuminated to become focused. We chose to focus our work on (s)heroism in spite of all the hate. We chose to focus on (s)heroes like Prabhjot who chose to forgive despite the fact that his jaw had been broken, despite the fact it was not the first time this had happened to him, and despite the fact that the media had only then decided to pick up the story this one random time.

For our summer 2015 programming, ICP is going to model to our fellows what it means to tackle a community issue. This year, the community issue we had chosen to use as an example is: How do communities of faith that are affected by hate crimes address that issue? We had decided to focus on the Muslim and Sikh communities, and were going to acquaint fellows to Muslim/Sikh individuals and community organizations in New York City to see how they have responded to hate crimes in their community. It is an unfortunate state of affairs in our nation that there seems to be an abundance of such examples for the chosen community issue at hand.

We weren’t going to publicize this issue until details were finalized, but after last night’s hate crime, we saw no other alternative than to go forth and disclose what we are working on, and condemn any acts of hate that threaten to disrupt the solidarity that so many of us have so carefully and deliberately worked to build. Today, after work, when I finally reached out to Illuminated youth, team, and community members (several who have been personally affected), I told them, “Sometimes, it feels that this is never-ending.” There is no consolation for three lives lost, senselessly, and never will be. Please, keep their loved ones in your thoughts – the funeral services are tomorrow in North Carolina. Below are a few ways you can show your solidarity:

  • The lives of these three young people were dedicated to service. Learn more about their lives and work.
  • Donate to the Syrian Dental Relief. It is the last project Deah had the opportunity to work on and for which he raised thousands of dollars.
  • Speak out about this hate crime in person with those you know and on social media by using the hashtags #ChapelHillShooting and #HateCrime
  • Speak out and do something about all hate crimes within your own sphere of influence.


As we continue our work to develop leaders who strengthen communities, we dedicate our work to Deah, Yusor, and Razan and the gentleness and grace with which they lived their lives.

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