Why are #OurThreeBoys dead?

March 3, 2016

Dorian Bon reports on the murder of three East African youths in Fort Wayne, Indiana--and asks if it is part of a broader escalation of racism and Islamophobia.

THE EXECUTION-style murder of three young East African men in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is raising chilling questions about the climate of racism against Muslims in the U.S. and whether it might have played a role.

The Council on American Islamic-Relations is monitoring the unresolved murder case, where two young men and one teenager of Sudanese descent were gunned down in the home of a friend on the evening of February 24.

Twenty-three-year-old Mohamedtaha Omar and 17-year-old Muhannad Adam Tairab, both Muslims, and 20-year-old Adam Kamel Mekki, a Christian, were found dead, their bodies riddled with gunshots, in a gathering space where East African youth often go to hang out on weekends.

While their killer remains at large, Fort Wayne police have already "ruled out" the possibility that the murder constitutes a hate crime. Indiana's right-wing Republican Gov. Mike Pence has yet to issue any public statement about the murders, and the mainstream media has been quiet about them, too, even as racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic violence becomes increasingly routine throughout the country.

Omar, Mekki and Tairab: victims of an unresolved murder in Indiana
Omar, Mekki and Tairab: victims of an unresolved murder in Indiana

Omar, Mekki and Tairab were friends, students and young workers who were known in their community for their joyous and compassionate personalities. Wehdad Omar, Mohamedtaha's older sister, describes her "Taha" as an aspiring actor and activist, who was enrolled at Ivy Tech College of North Indiana at the time of his murder.

THE STORY of these three youths and their grieving families will resonate with many working people. They fled war and economic devastation in Darfur and South Kordofan, Sudan, searching for a better life across the Atlantic as their country of birth was torn apart by competing geopolitical powers and violent, sectarian conflicts.

As Abdelaziz Hassab, a spokesperson for the three families, remarked at a press conference on February 29:

All three victims had already been victimized long before they left their homeland Sudan to find peace and refuge in the USA more than a decade ago. Mr. Mohamedtaha Omar and Mr. Muhannad Tairab escaped genocide in Darfur, while Mr. Adam Mekki fled the ethnic cleansing in Nuba Mountains only to have their lives ended tragically in the hands of a senseless murderer. They all had one thing in common: pursuit of a better and peaceful life.

But in the wake of this tragic loss, students and activists around the country have refused to accept the rote answers of the political and media establishment.

On March 1, mourners gathered at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the lives of Omar, Mekki and Tairab, and to demand justice. The candlelight vigil and speak-out brought activists from Black Lives Matter DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia) and CAIR together in an act of solidarity.

Just over a year ago, mourners congregated in the same spot to pay tribute to Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha--the young victims of an Islamophobic murderer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Since then, a rising wave of Islamophobic violence has continued to devastate innocent lives across the United States.

At the University of Minnesota, an impressive coalition of student activists rallied around the slogan and social media hashtag #OurThreeBoys to fight for recognition of the Fort Wayne victims. Some 250 students from groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, the Sudani Student Union, and the Black Student Union united in protest to declare: "We need justice now!" "If you're not mad, you're not paying attention" and "Black lives matter."

BOTH THE state and federal government have responded to the Fort Wayne shooting with scandalous negligence. Despite the Fort Wayne police's insistence that the murder was not a hate crime, there is a climate of intensifying hate against Muslims, immigrants and minorities at every level of U.S. society, and this can't be ruled out yet as a motivating factor in the killings.

Islamophobic rhetoric has been increasingly ratcheted up during the presidential election season and in the wake of the Paris attacks and killings in San Bernardino, California, with various candidates denouncing Islam and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. The U.S. political situation has given rise to an intense atmosphere of Islamophobic and xenophobic terror, with record-breaking rates of assault and aggression targeting mosques, Muslim-run businesses and individuals perceived to be Muslim.

Donald Trump's campaign for the Republican Party nomination has emboldened reactionary thugs. Violent attacks have been carried out by Trump supporters against African Americans and the homeless, among others. And Trump has spoken approvingly of physical attacks against those protesting him.

Trump's call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims coming to the U.S." and his celebration of anti-Muslim death squads during the American colonization of the Philippines have helped strengthen the hold of violent, xenophobic ideology over the U.S. right wing.

But this rhetoric has been bolstered as well by the Democrats, with President Obama calling for Muslims to police their own communities and stamp out extremists--even as he continues to prosecute the "war on terror," which has served as a gloss for U.S. imperialism over the last decade and a half.

Trump's racist message also resonates with American cops, whom he has called "the most mistreated people" in the country. One prominent police union, the New England Police Benevolent Association, has already endorsed Trump, and individual officers in many U.S. cities and towns are attracted to his spectacular ugliness.

Much of the American political establishment is reinforcing the racial hatred spawned by the neoliberal era's socio-economic policies. In the face of one the worst refugee crises in human history, 31 U.S. governors issued statements demanding that refugees, primarily from Syria, be barred from entering their states.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, the leader of the most powerful country in the world, has promised to admit a mere 10,000 refugees into the country over the course of 2016, hardly even a token amount.

Both the liberal and conservative rejection of refugees is stoking racist violence on the ground in the United States, by lending credence to the absurd notion that those fleeing war and persecution somehow constitute a violent threat to national security. Indiana's own governor is in the midst of a high-profile legal battle with the U.S. District Court to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state. Pence's vilification of refugees makes all perceived "others" in Indiana potential targets.

The murder of Mohamedtaha Omar, Adam Mekki and Muhannad Tairab has to be understood in this context. The larger backdrop to their deaths is a political climate in which Muslims, refugees and minorities are coming under increasing fire as scapegoats for capitalism's profound social crisis.

This process is only intensifying. Our side has to prepare to be organized and bold enough to resist the onslaught of racism, and to dispel the myths and prejudices which help drive people to commit these abominable acts of violence.

Further Reading

From the archives