Three Muslim Students Murdered in Chapel Hill
Three Muslim students were shot and killed in their Chapel Hill apartment Tuesday night around 5 pm. Later that evening, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks surrendered himself and was arrested on charges of first degree murder for the deaths of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and Yusor’s sister Razan Abu-Salha. On Wednesday, Hicks pleaded indigence and was appointed a public defender.
Police said “an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking” may have been a factor in the killings, but they are not dismissing the possibility that it was a hate crime. Hicks’ Facebook profile includes many posts against religious, and he reportedly had a history of frequent confrontations with people in his neighborhood. However, his current wife, Karen Hicks, expressed shock and said he “championed the rights of others” in a statement Tuesday night. Later on Wednesday she issued another statement saying she is divorcing him. Family members of the victims have expressed doubt that the murders were simply connected to a parking dispute and Barakat’s sister asked authorities to investigate the murders as a hate crime.
The murders sparked a great deal of outrage on Twitter Tuesday evening, specifically by those who believed the tragedy was not receiving enough media coverage. Within hours the hashtags #ChapelHillShooting and #MuslimLivesMatter were trending worldwide.
Leaders from UNC, NC State, Duke, and NCCU held a news conference Wednesday in which they stressed it was too soon to label the killings a hate crime. Thousands attended a vigil held on UNC’s campus Wednesday night to honor the three victims. All three were known for their commitment to service in the area.
Alabama Becomes 37th State with Same-Sex Marriage
Last month, a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was a constitutional violation, and last Monday the Supreme Court chose to not act on Alabama’s request to stay this federal ruling in a 7-2 vote. This makes Alabama the 37th U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage. The decision to not intervene parallels Supreme Court rulings on stay requests from several other states regarding overturned same-sex marriage bans. The Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing arguments in a few months in a landmark case regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans by state governments. If the recent rulings are any indication, the Supreme Court is likely to rule against the constitutionality of same-sex bans.
This decision has sparked some judicial tension in Alabama, as Roy Moore, the state’s chief justice, is reportedly instructing local municipalities to ignore the federal ruling and not begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He claims that because the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on the constitutionality of state same-sex marriage bans by the end of its term in June, it must follow traditional protocol and stay the decision of the lower federal court. This sentiment was shared by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, the two members of the Supreme Court who voted in favor of Alabama’s stay request.
President Requests New AUMF, Confirms Death of Aid Worker
President Obama sent a proposal to Congress Wednesday that would authorize the use of military force against ISIL. This news came just days after the announcement that another American hostage, humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller, had died in captivity. Mueller, 26, was working in Syria when she was captured. The White House confirmed her death on February 10th.
President Obama’s proposal has drawn questions from members of both parties of Congress. Republicans are worrieded that the legislation does not allow for enough flexibility for military leaders to take action when necessary. Congressional Republicans also have expressed concern the action Obama is proposing now has already been going on for some time.
Democrats are concerned about the use of phrases such as “enduring offensive ground combat operations“ which they say are open to interpretation. Alternate readings could lead to another prolonged combat like those in Iraq and Afghanistan even though President Obama said that the resolution would not last for more than three years.
Still, members of Congress from both parties have expressed a willingness to work together to pass a resolution. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker explained, “It is my hope that we will fulfill our constitutional responsibility, and in a bipartisan way, pass an authorization that allows us to confront this serious threat.”
Progress Towards New Minsk Agreement
On Wednesday, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel, the respective leaders of France and Germany, met with Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro O. Poroshenko to work towards a solution to the Ukrainian conflict. The meeting – held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus – represents an attempt to implement a more sustainable peace agreement than the September Minsk Protocol, which was quickly disregarded by both sides.
The situation in Ukraine has been escalating recently with Ukrainian rebels closing in on the cities of Debaltseve and Mariupol. The number of total deaths has surpassed 5000. In the face of this violence, Western countries continue to debate the appropriate response. Chancellor Merkel has remained steadfast in her position that arming the Ukrainian military will not resolve the issue. President Obama, as well as his nominee for Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, has not ruled out sending weapons to Ukraine if the Minsk Peace Talks don’t reach the desired outcome.
In other news…
“Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for six months without pay by NBC. The network made the decision after Mr. Williams revealed he had been repeatedly telling a false story about his experiences in Iraq in 2003.
Houthi rebels took over the U.S. Embassy in Yemen Wednesday after it was closed and the staff evacuated.
Comedy Central host Jon Stewart announced he would be leaving “The Daily Show” later this year after 16 years as the program’s anchor.
USA Today published a map of Ukraine that did not include Crimea on Tuesday. It is unclear whether or not it was an intentional decision.
A group of Chinese students at a high school Model United Nations conference protested the inclusion of Taiwan as a country. Their request to change its status sparked heated debate and attention on Chinese social media.
Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX successfully embarked on its first deep space mission after two failed launches.