Some stories are harder to write than others. When I write about Trump, it likely raises my blood pressure some and I pound the keys harder, hence shortening the lifespan of my Dell. When I write my Idiot of the Week pieces, I shake my head, roll my eyes, and sometimes even chuckle. But stories like this one break my heart. They have more meaning, at least to me, than most of the others I write, but they take a toll. Still, this story must be told. It is too important to ignore. I hope you will agree.
It is nothing new, really. Neighbors get into disputes, usually settled with words, but every now and then with fists, willful property damage, or by some other means. Then, usually, they go on being neighbors and either “kiss and make up” or simply ignore each other. Perhaps they plant a 6-foot-tall hedge or build a fence. And yes, once in a great while they resort to violence. It happens, fortunately not all that often. But a recent case in Tulsa, Oklahoma is particularly disturbing and it ended in the death of a hard-working young man who did nothing to deserve such treatment.
The young man was Khalid Jabara, age 37, and his family had lived in their present home for 12 years. The neighbor, Stanley Vernon Majors, had moved in a few years after the Jabara family. The Jabaras first came to the U.S. from Lebanon in the 1980s and, from all indications they were good, hard-working and responsible people. They raised three children, one became a lawyer, another works in marketing, while Khalid and his mother, Haifa, ran the family catering business.
Almost as soon as Majors moved into the neighborhood, the trouble started. It started out with name-calling, “dirty Arabs,” “filthy Lebanese,” and more. He frequently screamed the “N-word_ at the African-American who worked on their yard. Then in 2015, the problems escalated when Majors hit Haifa with his car, sending her to the hospital with a broken shoulder, collapsed lung and fractured ribs. Majors was arrested, charged and ultimately freed on bond pending his trial next March (2017). The Jabara family pled for Majors to remain in jail. Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said Majors was an “obvious public safety risk and we made that argument to the court.” Nonetheless, Majors was released three months ago by Judge William LaFortune on $60,000 bond.
Then on Friday, August 12th, Jabara was home with his disabled father, Mounha, when he heard somebody tapping on the windows and called 911. Police responded, but unable to enter Major’s home, they left without further action. Jabara called police again, after Major’s spouse called Jabara to tell him that Majors had a gun. Then Khalid called his mother and told her not to come home, as Majors had a gun and he feared what might happen. Minutes after the police left, Majors fired four shots and murdered Khalid Jabara.
There are a few things I find particularly disturbing about this murder. One, family and court records document a history of animosity and of calls to the police to report racial slurs, harassment and threats by Mr. Majors, yet there is no record of his arrest prior to his hitting Ms. Jabara with his car. In fact, in 2013, two years before Majors ran Ms. Jabara down with his car, a protective order was issued against Majors, which he violated. Two, the fact that even though Majors confessed to hitting Ms. Jabara, and there was record of prior threats, Judge LaFortune granted bond with no restrictions, such as monitoring devices, or drug and alcohol testing.
Did the police and the courts do all they could do to protect the Jabara family? Would they have done more had the family not been of Lebanese descent? Mr. Majors now stands accused of first degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, threatening an act of violence and malicious intimidation or harassment — the last count a misdemeanor.
I think the main thing that concerns me about this, though, is it exemplifies the culture of hate, the environment of xenophobia that has become the norm over the last year. No, I do not blame this one on Donald Trump, per se, as Majors was intimidating the Jabara family long before Trump began spewing his toxic rhetoric. However, a report released earlier this year by Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative found that there were more acts of violence and vandalism against Muslims and those perceived as Muslims (the Jabara family were actually of the Christian faith, though it shouldn’t matter) in 2015 than in any year since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. For this, I do blame Mr. Trump, at least in part. It was the middle of 2015 when he began telling people that it was not only okay to hate people based on their religion, culture and ethnicity, but that they should hate those who are different. Yes, Mr. Majors began harassing the Jabara family long before Trump delivered his message, but did the new toxic environment created by Trump propel him to escalate from hate speech to murder? We will likely never know, but the new environment, the new culture of hatred opens doors that should never have been opened. Those doors need to be quickly closed and sealed, but I fear that may never happen. I fear that Khalid Jabara may be only one of many more to come.