The killings of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi tell us something about our society. And what they are saying is not good.
The entire nation is currently up in arms about the killing of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old Floridian who was shot and killed over a month ago by a neighborhood watch vigilante. And rightfully so. Martin’s only crime was to enter a gated, middle-class community where his father lived while black, wearing a hoodie, and carrying a pack of Skittles and an iced tea. Apparently in Florida this is what passes for justification for killing someone in self-defense: He looked like he didn’t belong, he was different, and he scared me, so I shot him.
It’s a recurring theme that we’ve seen all too often, and the police in Sanford, Florida, don’t seem to care about the injustice of it. The killer in this case, George Zimmerman, has thus far walked scot free. I mean, who could blame him? There was a 17 year old black kid walking through his neighborhood. Can’t have that now, can we?
But while the nation’s attention is trained on the Orlando suburb of Sanford, much closer to home, just to the east of San Diego in El Cajon, we have another, perhaps more sinister case of racial hatred. Or at least that’s how it appears. We really don’t know yet, but what we do know is quite damning.
On March 21st, Shaima Alawadi committed the egregious crime of inhabiting the home her family rented while being an Iraqi immigrant. The 32 year old mother of 5 was brutally beaten and left for dead. She was found by her 17 year old daughter. Alawadi was taken to the hospital in critical condition where she died three days later of her wounds.
Nearby her battered body was found a not that read, “Go back to your country, you terrorist!” According to the family, it wasn’t the first time such a note had been found at their home. Because just like in the Trayvon Martin killing where all black kids are thugs and criminals, all Iraqis/Arabs/anyone of Middle Eastern descent is a terrorist, and they should all be treated with extreme suspicion. Such, apparently, is the country we now live in, particularly in post 9/11 America.
Shaima Alawadi came to America as a child fleeing Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. She came of age here. She was educated here. She married here, and she raised a family here. By all accounts she was a kind, compassionate woman; an upstanding citizen and a fine mother. Her only crime was being a Muslim woman in a locale with the second largest Iraqi community in the U.S., second only to Detroit.
Of course we don’t yet know with absolute certainty that the attack on Shaima Alawadi was a hate crime, but for the time being authorities are treating it that way. Hell, it’s hard to fathom that this was not an attack spurred by racial hatred given the notes that were left behind. It’s entirely possible that the note left near Shaima’s fatally battered figure was merely a red herring to throw authorities off of the real motive behind the attack. Possible, but doubtful. Police have a handful of leads, but as of yet have come up with nothing concrete.
With the current social and political environment that we live in—especially post 9/11—it’s pretty easy to jump to conclusions, something that we generally try to avoid, but usually fail miserably at. In the case of Trayvon Martin though, given the evidence of what happened that night—the 911 tapes, the statements of Martin’s girlfriend with whom he was on the phone at the time, statements from witnesses, Martin’s cries for help as heard on several 911 recordings, the surveillance video from the Sanford Police Department that showed no visible signs of injury or of a scuffle and that completely contradict Zimmerman’s claims–it’s difficult to imagine his killer was motivated by anything other than racial stereotypes and hatred. Given that Alawadi was attacked in her home, and that according to the family nothing was missing from the home indicating that burglary was not a motive; that according to her neighbors, friends, and family, Shaima Alawadi was a quiet, unassuming woman who simply went about her business and had no known enemies that wanted to do her harm; that other than the menacing notes from a month prior and left at the scene there doesn’t appear to be any other motive for the attack, it’s difficult to imagine another motivation other than a fear or hatred of Muslims.
The death of Shaima Alawadi is no less outrageous than that of Trayvon Martin. The fact that we know who Trayvon’s killer is and that he’s still walking the streets of Sanford a free man has caused his death to overshadow Shaima’s. The difference is that the attack on Alawadi appears to have been premeditated and deliberate while George Zimmerman’s actions were borne more of opportunity.
The fact that George Zimmerman is still a free man is a grave injustice. He should be in jail, charged with a crime and awaiting trial. But if the facts as we know them hold up (and they might not, we just don’t know yet until the police complete their investigation) the death of Shaima Alawadi is even an even more egregious affront to American society and the American way of life. If, as we suspect, she was attacked merely because of her religious and cultural background, it is a dire indication of the breakdown in social mores in our country, but even worse, within the San Diego community.
One can’t help but wonder if the overheated rhetoric in our politics is at least partially to blame for either of these tragedies. And if so, what’s it going to take to put an end to it?