Rafu Staff Report
While protests over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, in Florida are gaining momentum, civil rights advocates are also responding to the bludgeoning death of Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi American woman, in a suburb of San Diego.
Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was taken off life support March 24, three days after her teenage daughter found her unconscious in the dining room of the family home in El Cajon, where one of the nation’s largest enclaves of Iraqi immigrants lives. Her daughter told a local TV station that the note said: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
El Cajon police have declined to disclose the contents of the note, but said investigators regard the killing as a possible hate crime. Chief James Redman said March 26 there was other evidence and called the killing an isolated incident.
The family reportedly received a similar note a few days earlier, but dismissed it as a child’s prank.
Alawadi, who was an active member of her mosque, wore a hijab, the traditional Muslim women’s hair covering. Since 9/11, there have been incidents in which a woman wearing a hijab in public was singled out for verbal or physical assault.
In Martin’s case, the 17-year-old was wearing a hoodie when he was spotted and followed by volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who claimed that he shot the unarmed teen in self-defense during an altercation. Martin’s family and their supporters are outraged that Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged.
Protesters are organizing “million hoodie marches” to show solidarity with Martin, and there are now calls for “million hijab marches” in honor of Alawadi.
“I am appalled by the brutal murder of Shaima Alawadi … This incident is strikingly similar to hate crimes in recent years where victims were targeted based on their perceived religious affiliations or ethnicity,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-El Monte), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “As Americans, we cannot tolerate these heinous acts. My heart goes out to Shaima’s husband and her five children.”
Speaking at a forum on racial profiling, federal hate crimes enforcement and “stand your ground” laws, Chu also said, “The tragedy of what happened to Trayvon was a product of racial profiling. Last week, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraq American woman from California, was beaten to death with a tire iron because of racial profiling. One wore a hoodie, and the other wore a hijab, but both were killed due to ignorance. We must stand united to prevent future tragedies.”
Asssemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) echoed those sentiments, posting on Facebook, “One million hoodies … one million hijabs. From Sanford, Florida to El Cajon, California. When will the violence end? When will justice be served? Rest in peace, Trayvon Martin and Sahima Alawadi.”
A candlelight vigil for the Alawadi family is scheduled for March 30 at Town Center Community Park in Santee.
Alawadi’s family fled Iraq, then ruled by Saddam Hussein, in the early 1990s and lived in Michigan before moving to San Diego. Her body has been flown back to Iraq for burial.