North Carolina anti-Muslim hate crime inspires #LoveThyNeighbor campaign

The three victims of a 2015 shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were, from left, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha. To mark the second anniversary of their deaths, the foundation created in their honor has joined with Van Jones' #LoveArmy initiative to launch the #LoveThyNeighbor campaign encouraging acts of kindness and service. (Photo via Wikipedia.)

This week marks the second anniversary of the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in what's been called an Islamophobic hate crime.

Following the February 2015 shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her younger sister Razan Abu-Salha by a hostile white neighbor who had expressed animosity toward Islam and other religions, their families established the Our Three Winners foundation to fund humanitarian projects in their honor.

That foundation has joined with the #LoveArmy, an effort co-founded by former Obama administration green jobs adviser Van Jones under his Dream Corps social justice organization, to launch the #LoveThyNeighbor campaign, which is calling on people to stand against hatred, xenophobia and prejudice and to commit acts of kindness and service.

"Tragically, Feb. 10 marks two years since my brother Deah, his wife Yusor, and her sister Razan lost their lives to a hate crime," said Suzanne Barakat, chair of Our Three Winners. "In a time of divisiveness and hateful rhetoric, our families ask that you join hands and come together to fight hate with love and fight darkness with light."

The initiative is asking people to perform an act of kindness, service or solidarity for a neighbor or fellow community member this week — dropping off a gift, volunteering time, printing a sign and putting it in a window, etc. — and to share the experience on social media with the hashtags #LoveThyNeighbor, #LoveArmy, and #OurThreeWinners.

In addition, imams, priests, rabbis and other faith-based community leaders will hold prayer services this weekend remembering the murdered students and supporting the "Love Thy Neighbor" campaign and everyone who's been affected by hate.

The effort comes amid a spike in hate-related incidents following the election of President Donald Trump, who made derogatory comments about vulnerable groups before and during the campaign. The Southern Poverty Law Center's tally of post-election hate incidents found that anti-immigrant encounters were the most frequently reported type. It also documented numerous anti-Muslim incidents.

"We will not let attacks on immigrants and Muslims define who we are," said Jones. "It is time for us all to rise up and fight back against fear and hatred. We must love and protect each other. Right now we can let each and every one of our neighbors know:  We got your back."