The sky dimmed above a candlelit Quarry Plaza on Friday night as about 70 people stood in a circle to remember the lives of three Muslim students killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina Feb. 10
The shooting of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her younger sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha shocked the nation, shedding light on the dangers of Islamophobia in the United States. A grand jury indicted the alleged shooter, Craig Hicks, 46, on Monday. While police and media initially stated that the shooting happened over a parking dispute, it is now being investigated as a hate crime.
The vigil organized by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) provided a space for students and staff to honor the three lives lost and stand in solidarity with Muslim communities in mourning. MSA Internal Vice President Thooba Samimi spoke through tears regarding the unease faced by Muslim communities as a result of Islamophobia in the U.S. and even within UC Santa Cruz.
“We are feeling insecure, even here,” Samimi said. “I feel scared living my life every day. But I still have a scarf on my head because I have a belief and I’m going to stand by it.”
The vigil began with three MSA members stepping forward to read a brief biography of each victim, all ending in the same question: “What was my crime that I was shot for?”
Before opening up the floor to anyone who wanted to speak, MSA President Kazi Rahman reminded attendees of the vigil’s primary purpose — to reflect on the lives of the three deceased students.
“We are here to honor our three winners, not to point fingers at the killer or his motives,” Rahman said, referring to the Facebook page “Our Three Winners,” created early last Wednesday by friends and family to celebrate the victims’ lives and history of volunteerism.
Dean of Students Alma Sifuentes and Asian American/Pacific Islander Resource Center (AA/PIRC) Director Nancy Kim were among those who spoke at the event.
Speaking from an administrative perspective, Sifuentes addressed students’ fear of ethnic and religious persecution, saying that despite some room for improvement, UCSC cares about the wellbeing of its students.
“This is a safe campus, although we have to do some work,” Sifuentes said. “The majority of [the UCSC community] is a loving community. And I want to remind you to walk proud, and that you are welcome here.”
Kim reassured attendees of the spaces on campus where they can find support and urged students to take advantage of the Ethnic Resource Centers (ERC).
The last speaker of the night was MSA External Vice President Muhammad Ilahee, who touched on the recent events in Ferguson and last year’s Isla Vista shootings in his speech before paying a final tribute to the victims’ lives.
“They were students and they had a dream,” Ilahee said. “Wherever you are now, we will always remember you. Stay in peace.”