Editor's note: A version of this column appeared online Friday, Feb. 13. This has been updated with new information.
By most accounts, Craig Stephen Hicks is a bitter, hostile man obsessed with parking and guns.
Why he harbors these feelings, we do not know, but he had an arsenal of 12 firearms to back them up. We do know Hicks' first marriage failed. We do know that he held a string of service jobs that could not have paid well. We do know he is 46, and, if Hicks is like a lot of middle-aged people, he is realizing that his life is not how he had envisioned it would be. He will not be president. He will not be rich. He will always be Craig Stephen Hicks.
Compare him to his victims—Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21; and Yusor's sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19: bright, hopeful, brimming with a generosity of spirit.
The public dissection of why Hicks killed three innocent people has been relentless. It could be all of the reasons. It could be none of them. There could be no reason. But the prevailing theory is, that upset about a parking space, he snapped.
Another theory is that as an atheist, he despised religion, including Islam, and this was a hate crime. Even though atheists, as a group, are no more inherently violent than Muslims or Christians or Jews, it's difficult to imagine that the victims' religion played no part in Hicks' decision to pull the trigger. He did it not just once, but multiple times, execution-style, a manner that was personal, intimate and indicative of a man who wanted his victims to fear him right until the end.
Or it was just bad luck. As his wife's lawyer, Robert Maitland, said, with an unbelievable degree of insensitivity: "The victims were at the wrong time and the wrong place."
- Craig Stephen Hicks courtesy of durham county sheriff's office
As if it were the victims' fault to be in the privacy of their home at 5 o'clock in the afternoon—the wrong time and the wrong place. He, not the victims was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A fourth theory is that to kill three people over a parking spot, Hicks must be mentally ill, a transparent attempt by Maitland at foreshadowing an insanity defense. This paragraph has been corrected. It originally and erroneously stated Hicks' attorney made the remark about mental illness.
Yes, Hicks clearly became unmoored, but by pathologizing his misanthropy as mental illness, we absolve him of responsibility.
Society tells us that when white people kill, they're crazy and need treatment. But when black people kill, they're thugs and should go to jail. When Latinos kill, they should be deported.
This distinction gets to the core of a larger phenomenon about white power and male dominance and control.
From 1982 to 2014, two-thirds of the 69 mass shootings—defined by the FBI as killings that involved four or more people—were committed by white males. And yet, as a racial and gender group, they are not systematically profiled at airports, on street corners or in their cars. That's because white men still make the rules.
Hicks had a valid conceal carry permit for his handguns, and even owned an AR-15 military firearm. (What have we heard from the NRA on the Chapel Hill shootings? Crickets.)
- Photo from our three winners' Facebook memorial
- left to right Deah, Yusor, and Razan
But as time goes on, white men will make fewer of the rules, and some of them find that intolerable. Hicks wanted to exert his authority, like William Foster, the violent, unemployed, disgruntled character in Falling Down, which was Hicks' favorite movie, according to his ex-wife. When people did not comply with Hicks' parking edicts, it threatened not only his personal power, but also rattled the social structure that has for years bowed to the demands of white men.
That's why I do not believe Deah, Yusor and Razan were murdered over something as trivial as a parking space. Ultimately, the disputed parking spot is just a symbol of Hicks' desire for control. Hicks' space was his domain, a place where he felt he could make the rules and stand his ground.
The scaffolding that has ensured the stature of whites and men is crumbling. In the U.S., whites are becoming a minority, and now must share their power with, or in some cases, abdicate it to, other racial and ethnic groups. That makes some white people uncomfortable, according to a UCLA study conducted last year.
"Whites have long benefited from being seen as the ethnic group that best represents what it means to be American," one of the study's authors wrote. "Thinking about a future in which whites are no longer a numerical majority threatens this claim to the American identity and, we have found results in a reluctance to embrace diversity and greater support for newcomers to assimilate to American society."
We've seen other forms of pushback against cultural change from angry white men, including retaliation based on gender. Women now lead companies, businesses, nonprofits and, often, their homes. They are no longer confined to traditional roles, no longer dependent on their husbands to own property or to get a credit card. They may not even want husbands. They may want wives.
As such, women can be perceived as threats to the patriarchy, including traditional dens of masculinity, such as the military and video games. For example, last year, an unknown number of white men in the gaming industry threatened to kill or rape several female developers who had criticized the industry's patriarchy. A feminist critic canceled a speech on the topic after a man threatened to embark on a mass shooting at the event.
And finally, there are issues of class. The chasm between wealthy and poor is widening—ironically, as the result of laws and policies passed by rich white men to protect their interests and penalize the poor, minorities and women.
As a society, we feel desperate to hang on to whatever we have, even something as trivial a parking space. We are so busy competing, getting what we think we're owed, that we no longer can empathize.
"Your life is shaped by the end you live for," the Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote. "You are made in the image of what you desire."
If Merton was right, then the trajectory of Craig Stephens Hicks' 46 years stops here. On Feb. 16, a grand jury indicted him on three counts of first-degree murder.
Deah, Yusor and Razan did not foresee, nor live for their unjust and horrific end. But the shape of their lives has touched others, including those who never knew them but appreciated what they stood for.
Culturally, the world is changing. We can embrace and welcome it, and create a more equal and just society, like the one the victims were working toward. To choose otherwise is to lose our humanity, to divide ourselves into predators and prey.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The angry white man problem"