Happy (early) Valentines Day! If you plan to spend this weekend taking romantic selfies at a museum, you might have to change your plans. Moving beyond such extreme first world problems, this week a terrible hate crime was committed against three Muslims in North Carolina and I have the tragic details for you. Also, a cease-fire in Ukraine and news anchor Brian Williams is newly under fire for some more sketchy stories.
Do you think we should ban selfie sticks everywhere? Will you ever trust Brian Williams again? Discuss these or any other news stories in the comments, or tweet me directly (or just follow me) @AmandaLauren.
Ceasefire In Ukraine
On Thursday, from Minsk, Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Françoise Hollande officially announced a ceasefire agreement, which will begin on Sunday.
We have agreed on a ceasefire from midnight 15 February. There is also the political settlement. The first thing is constitutional reform that should take into consideration the legitimate rights of people who live in Donbass. There are also border issues. Finally there are a whole range of economic and humanitarian issues.
Heavy weapons will be withdrawn during a two-week period, which begins on February 17. The agreement will give amnesty for all prisoners involved in the fighting, but will require all foreign militias to withdraw from Ukrainian territory. By the end of 2015, there will be Ukrainian control of the border with Russia. Participants in the agreement will also be required to attend regular meetings to make sure everyone is holding up their end of the deal.
Brian Williams or Lyin’ Williams
Last week, NBC news anchor Brian Williams revealed he lied about being in a Chinook helicopter that was shot down in Iraq in 2003. As a result, he has been suspended for six months without pay. NBC News President Deborah Turness distributed a memo to staff members late Tuesday, which said,
As I'm sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action. We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.
Or maybe not so much . . . because NBC is now questioning some more stories told by Williams.
Williams’s reporting on Hurricane Katrina was so incredible; he won a Peabody award for his work, but looking back, there are a lot of inconsistencies. In a 2005 Sundance Channel documentary, In His Own Words: Brian Williams on Hurricane Katrina, Williams said, “We’d heard the story of a man killing himself, falling from the upper deck [of the Superdome].” But Williams later told Tom Brokaw that he actually witnessed the suicide himself. The National Guard confirmed a suicide occurred in the Superdome at the time, but the man didn’t jump from the fourth level.
Williams also said he watched a body float by his hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, in the French quarter. But that would have been impossible because the French quarter remained mostly dry. He also claimed the hotel was overrun by gangs and he developed dysentery from accidentally drinking floodwater. But that might not be true because the hotel was evacuated on September 2 and, at that point, Williams was reporting from Baton Rouge.
Williams is also being questioned about his claim that he was held at gunpoint while selling Christmas Trees in New Jersey during 1970s. In addition to the supposed Christmas tree crime, NBC is also trying to confirm a 2006 report that Williams’s helicopter was nearly hit by Hezbollah rocket fire during the Israel-Lebanon war.
According to research firm The Marketing Arm, prior to this current incident, Williams was considered the 23rd-most-trusted person in America, but now his rank has gone all the way down to 835.
On Tuesday, three Muslim students were shot and killed in their apartment in North Carolina. The victims were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, of Chapel Hill, as well as her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. The shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, turned himself in and has been charged with murder.
Hicks’s wife, Karen (who is reported to be in the process of divorcing him), denied what occurred was a hate crime:
This incident had nothing to do with religion or the victims' faith, but in fact was related to the longstanding parking disputes that my husband had with the neighbors.
Rob Maitland, who is Mrs. Hicks’s attorney also made a statement,
[The shooting] highlights the importance of access to mental health-care services . . . [But] obviously it's not within the range of normal behavior for someone to shoot three people over parking issues.
Many people would beg to differ. Craig Hicks often posted quotes on his Facebook wall that were critical of religion in general, Islam in particular. Neighbor Samantha Maness also said he was a generally angry person:
[He] complained about the noise and parking. So I wasn’t extremely surprised. Anytime that I saw him or saw interaction with him or friends or anyone in the parking lot or myself, he was angry. He was very angry, anytime I saw him.
Another neighbor, Michael Nam, said it wasn’t the first time Hicks pulled out a gun because of a parking dispute,
I’ve actually had the guy pull out his gun over my taking his parking space.
The father of two of the victims, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, who is a psychiatrist, told the Raleigh News-Observer,
This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt addressed the horrific incident in a public statement.
Our community has been rocked by a horrible crime with the shootings of three young people. [It was a] senseless and tragic act surrounding a long-standing dispute. I share strong feelings of outrage and shock with my fellow citizens and university students — as well as concerned people everywhere. We do not know whether anti-Muslim bias played a role in this crime, but I do recognize the fear that members of our community may feel. Chapel Hill is a place for everyone, a place where Muslim lives matter.
All the victims were born in the U.S. and grew up locally. Deah Shaddy Barakat was a dental student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and Yusor were married in late December. Razan was a sophomore studying architecture at North Carolina State University.
· On Thursday, Jamie Brewer, who you might know from her work on two seasons of American Horror Story, became the first model with Down syndrome to grace the runway during Fashion Week in New York. She was part of designer Carrie Hammer’s “Role Models Not Runway Models” campaign which features women who are nonprofit leaders, heads of multibillion-dollar businesses, and other women who just do incredible things to improve the world, instead of typical runway models.
· If you enjoy museums and hate selfie sticks, I have some good news for you. Several museums throughout the U.S. — including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Cooper-Hewitt Design in New York; the indoor galleries at California’s Getty Center and Getty Villa — have banned those omnipresent giant sticks of narcissistic annoyingness. Curators are concerned selfie sticks could be used as weapons or potentially damage priceless works of art.
· Think of two delicious treats that most people go crazy over and combine them. What do you have? Sriracha Hummus. Tribe, which calls its product “the caviar of hummus,” will be debuting Sriracha Hummus later this month. Enjoy it with some Sriracha chocolate or wash it down with Sriracha vodka.