Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.
In the mugshot of Craig Stephen Hicks, you can see his desire.
Maybe not the specific impulse to shoot three Muslim students in the head, execution-style, as he did last week, but in the stony eyes of Craig Stephen Hicks there is a desire for revenge, for power, for punishment.
Why he harbors these feelings, we do not know. We do know his 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 his eyes to those of the victims—Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21; and Yusor's sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19: bright, hopeful, kind, brimming with a generosity of spirit. Why they harbor these feelings, we do know. We know that Deah and Yusor recently were married. We know they all had the desire to help the suffering, the marginalized, the vulnerable. We know they had promising futures, that until the late afternoon of Feb. 10, they still had the power to shape their lives as they envisioned them to be.
The dissection of the reasons why Hicks murdered three innocent people has been relentless. An atheist, he despised religion, including Islam, and this was a hate crime. A generally hostile person, he was upset about a parking space, and just snapped. He is mentally ill, a transparent attempt by his attorneys at foreshadowing an insanity defense.
Or it was just bad luck. As
one of his lawyers
, the lawyer for Hicks' wife, Robert Maitland, said, with an unbelievable degree of insensitivity: “The victims were at the wrong time and the wrong place.”
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.
It could be none of these reasons. There could be no reason. Yes, Hicks clearly became unmoored, but by pathologizing his hostility as mental illness, we absolve him of responsibility. He
was in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing.
While law enforcement has been reticent to call this a hate crime (likely for future prosecutorial reasons, as these crimes are hard to prove), it’s difficult to imagine that the victims’ religion played no part in Hicks’ decision to pull the trigger. And he pulled it not just once, but multiple times, in a manner that was personal, intimate and indicative of a man who wanted his victims to fear him right until the end.
Imagine how Muslims in the area must feel now. In addition to regularly enduring suspicions that they are terrorists (When will the TSA start profiling scruffy, pasty white men at the airport?), they have been treated badly by “enlightened” institutions such as Duke University, which cowed to the demands of a Christian fanatic. And, now, three beloved members of the Muslim community—and the greater human community—have been killed.
I do not believe they were killed over something as trivial as a parking space. Ultimately, the disputed parking spot is just a stand-in for Hicks’ desire for control. Hicks’ space was his domain, a place where he felt he could stand his ground. Like William Foster, the violent, unemployed, disgruntled character in Falling Down, which was Hicks’ favorite movie, according to his ex-wife, Hicks wanted to exert his authority. When people did not comply with his parking edicts, it threatened not only his personal power, but also rattled the social structure that has for years bowed to the demands of middle-aged white men.
The scaffolding that has ensured the stature of whites and men is crumbling. In the U.S., whites are finally becoming a minority, and now must share their power with, or in some cases, abdicate it to, other racial and ethnic groups.
Although women still encounter discrimination, they 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 the chasm between wealthy and the poor grows, people have become desperate to hang on to whatever they have, even something as minor as a parking space. And we’re not afraid to use a gun to defend it. (Hicks had a valid conceal carry permit. What have we heard from the NRA? Crickets.)
We’re killing one another in astonishing numbers, whether in Chapel Hill or Staten Island or Syria. And we’re killing one another because we have lost our humanity. We’re so busy competing, getting what we think we’re owed, that we no longer can empathize. We are dividing ourselves into predators and prey.
If Thomas Merton was right, if our lives are shaped by the end we live for, then the trajectory of Craig Stephens Hicks’ 46 years stops here.
Deah, Yusor and Razan did not foresee nor live for their unjust and horrific end. But the shape of their lives has touched others. Perhaps now each of us can rethink our priorities and choose a different, kinder path.