It was “road rage” that killed Nabra Hassanen

At least, this is what the police say. It was “road rage” that chased her down the street with a bat as she was on her way to the mosque on an early Ramadan morning, and road rage that forced her into a vehicle and took her away from her friends. It was road rage that inflicted “blunt force trauma” to her body, and road rage that discarded that lifeless body in a pond a few miles away.  

The face of “road rage” is a man named Darwin A. Martinez Torres. Torres was so overwhelmed with anger and apparently the “road rage” made him do it—made him kill Hassanen, a 17-year old black girl who wore a headscarf that identified her as a Muslim. This is what the police say, at least. 

It was “road rage” that killed Nabra, just like it was a “parking dispute” that killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill. In 2015, a man named Craig Hicks knocked on the apartment door of Deah Barakat, with his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan, and put a bullet in each of them, taking their lives. They were students at the University of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and both Yusor and Razan wore headscarves. For months, Hicks, a resident of the same complex they lived in, had harassed Barakat about the designated parking spaces—each tenant was given one. On at least one occasion making his complaints, Hicks exposed a gun to Barakat. 

It’s presumably that same gun that Hicks brought to Barakat’s door one evening, and the same gun he used to shoot and kill Barakat, Yusor and Razan. Investigating the murders, police determined that what happened to them was the result of nothing more than a “parking dispute.”

Certainly, Hicks’ verbalized grievances were about the parking spaces. But Hicks described himself as an “anti-theist” on his Facebook account. “The moment that your religion claims any kind of jurisdiction over my experience, you insult me on a level that you can’t even begin to comprehend,” he wrote in one post. “Even if your beliefs had substance, the arrogance of that would be insult enough. But the fact that they have no substance, and are merely a transparent raft of delusions and lies, magnifies the insult enormously.” He was also a strong supporter of gun rights.  

Road rage didn’t kill Nabra. Darwin A. Martinez Torres did. 

Perhaps it was a parking dispute that upset Hicks, that drove him to anger. But, in an apartment complex populated by many other people—many of whom were surely careless about parking regulations—why Deah, Yusor and Razan? There is an ideological framework that enabled Hicks’ violence and directed it against the three Muslim students. Hicks, like the rest of us, lived in a world that routinely dehumanized Muslims—in a world that depicted them as less-than, and treated their lives as disposable. From U.S. foreign policy to domestic surveillance of Muslim communities, everything in Hicks’ universe confirmed to him what he believed was true: that Muslims had not earned the right to life. And while police investigators insisted that it was a parking dispute that motivated his violence against them, the Muslim community, and the victims’ family, had known enough to suspect that something far more insidious was at play. After all, they live in a world that routinely calls their very humanity into question, every day, on the basis of their faith and nationality. As Yusor’s father told reporters, “I am sure my daughter felt hated, and she said, literally, ‘Daddy, I think it is because of the way we look and the way we dress.’” These details are very difficult to escape. 

Nabra Hassanen’s family is not under any illusion either, about what killed their daughter. "He killed her because she's a Muslim—this is what I tell the detective," Mohmoud Hassanen, her father, told The Washington Post. "Why was he running behind the kids wearing Islamic clothes with a baseball stick? Why, when my daughter fell down, why did he hit her? For what? We don't know this guy. He doesn't know us. We don't hate anybody because of religion or color. I teach my kids to love everybody."

Torres, we now know, is an undocumented immigrant. He saw a group of Muslim teenagers walking down street, likely in the same haphazard way that teens navigate most city streets. But Torres lives in a world that teaches him, every day, that Muslims are particularly culpable, that Muslims are specifically violent and primitive in their traditions and beliefs. And so he felt licensed to treat them as such. It’s difficult to picture what happened to Nabra being categorized as "road rage" if it had happened to someone who was white, or didn’t wear a headscarf. 

Road rage didn’t kill Nabra. Darwin A. Martinez Torres did. 

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