“Justice For Hamza,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Unite and Fight Islamophobia” were a few of the picket signs held at a rally held in solidarity of the death of Hamza Warsame on a rainy and cold Thursday evening.
Hamza Warsame was a 16-year-old Running Start student who police say died from a fall at a Capitol Hill building on Saturday. His family said he was at the apartment to study with a classmate who lives there.
Ikram Warsame, Hamza’s older sister, said police have not ruled anything out yet, and are still investigating every possible situation, including whether it was a hate crime.
But through the sadness and passion at the rally is a lack of a conclusive answer of how Warsame died, the uncertainty of whether or not he died by a violent act. Some have called the death a potential hate crime, but they are getting criticized by others, who say they’re jumping to conclusions. (Ikram Warsame at the vigil thanked supporters, but also asked people to avoid jumping to conclusions until the investigation was over.)
But why is there an outcry? Is it unreasonable for people to fear the worst and worry that Hamza’s race and religion had something to do with his death?
To give the issue context, consider response to the San Bernardino shooting that took place last week. Hardly 24 hours after the shooting, the media response was swift, implicating the Pakistani couple that was killed, and links to terrorism as a motive were just as immediate.
There was no questioning of news outlets for drawing these conclusions before official reports were released.
Conversely, Somali and Muslim Americans have been targeted by hate-motivated individuals, but those crimes have not received the same swift attention as when they are potentially the perpetrators.
Why is it that a black Muslim’s death gets little attention but there would have been a lot of speculation if he had been a suspect?
“There is bias when it comes to the media and how they respond to people of color. I think we just don’t bring enough ratings when we’re the victims,” said Quratulain Khan, organizer of Thursday’s rally. (Quratulain Khan is not related to me.)
As a Muslim-American journalist, I not only understand the positive and negative effects of various media responses to Muslim, POC issues, but I believe that journalism has the potential to truly serve the people with accuracy and truth if it is self-aware of how it characterizes people of color.
There is also a lot of mistrust that the police will bring the full truth of the case into light, after cases of cover-ups, such as the recent news in Chicago.
So the international response calling to investigate Warsame’s death as a hate crime is a connection of many different events that have come to a head: the calls for recognition of black life by Black Lives Matter; a “record high” of threats, harassment and vandalism targeting Muslims, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations; a disparity in how the media, officials and public respond to news about people of color; and a lack of confidence that police will do the right thing when handling a black, Somali, Muslim boy’s death.