Freedom Rider: An Angry White Man Kills Again
Freedom Rider: An Angry White Man Kills Again
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“The stand your ground and open carry laws are a return to the days when white supremacy was openly expressed through conquest of the native population, slavery, and lynch law terror.”
CreditTravis Dove for The New York Times
Craig Hicks was a human time bomb in his Chapel Hill, North Carolina neighborhood. He was constantly spoiling for a fight, about noise or parking or anything else that he found irritating. Hicks was always armed, a resident of an “open carry” state which allowed him to wear a holstered gun anywhere at any time. On February 10, 2015, Hicks turned himself in to the police and confessed to murdering three people that day.
The victims were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha. Hicks had argued with the family about parking spaces but it seems any reason to pull the trigger would have been good enough.
Hicks motive for the killing is murky. Some of his political views could be called liberal and others conservative. But more than anything Hicks was serious about being a white man. He loved his guns and he asserted his right to be armed at all times. It is likely that he had mental health issues, but the sickness did not emerge solely from this particular individual.
Where Hicks fell on the political spectrum is really beside the point. He expressed support for the right to bear arms, marriage equality and abortion rights but more than anything he supported his right to be violent. Because of their passivity everyone around him did as well.
His neighbors are now telling the media about his constant arguments and confrontations while being armed but there are no reports of anyone ever calling the police about his behavior. The Barakats told relatives they feared Hicks but ultimately decided not to call the police either. Hicks’ neighbors discussed their concerns among themselves but took no other action. The complicity led to unintentional enabling and that made the killings inevitable.
“Open carry laws are obviously reserved for white people only.”
The inaction stands in stark contrast to the treatment meted out to black people who are at risk of being killed even when they don’t threaten anyone. North Carolina allows open carry of firearms but so does the state of Ohio. That fact didn’t keep John Crawford or Tamir Rice from being shot down in Dayton and Cleveland respectively. They had toy guns and weren’t a danger to anyone. Yet both of them are now on the long list of black people killed by the police. Open carry laws are obviously reserved for white people only.
It is important to ask if the Hicks murders were a hate crime but there are questions which must be explored and they may be harder to deal with than legal definitions. The most fundamental questions is this. Why are white people seen as benign and their behavior as normative, no matter what they do?
Try to imagine a black man picking fights with his neighbors while armed. Then try to imagine that no one ever calls the police in this hypothetical scenario. In Tampa, Florida a black man named Clarence Daniels was legally carrying a gun when he walked into a Walmart. A white man took it upon himself to confront and assault Daniels. The white assailant was arrested but as a black man Daniels was lucky not to have ended up dead.
Hicks got the kid glove treatment despite the obvious risk he posed to other people. Fealty to whiteness trumps all else including the desire for safety. In 2014 a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy sparked a white power movement which threatened the lives of federal marshals. Bundy owed the government thousands of dollars in payment for his cattle grazing on federal land. He didn’t just refuse to pay. He gathered a group of armed followers. Two of them, Jerad and Amanda Miller, went on to kill two police officers.
“Fealty to whiteness trumps all else including the desire for safety.”
At least one person knew that the Millers were armed and dangerous. She saw their arsenal of weapons and heard them say they were going to start a revolution. “I should have called the cops,” was the lame admission. That much is obvious but the expression of regret doesn’t explain very much.
The stand your ground and open carry laws are a return to the days when white supremacy was openly expressed through conquest of the native population, slavery, and lynch law terror. Those acts should not be seen as events of long ago history. They became part of this country’s DNA and give angry, unstable white people a pass to do what they want. They aren’t thought of as potential killers or terrorists as they should be. Bystanders aren’t sufficiently concerned because they too give white people the benefit of the doubt even when they don’t deserve it.
Hicks strongly believed in the right to bear arms and had four handguns, two shotguns and six rifles in his home at the time of the killings. No one knows what twisted thoughts finally sparked the violence but the sickness of this country’s history helped him to carry it out. There are thousands of dangerous people like him who call themselves patriots or sovereign citizens or doomsday preppers. But mostly they just believe in being white.