The #JusticeForElijah hashtag trended on Twitter this week after 17-year-old Elijah Al-Amin was fatally stabbed by 27-year-old Michael Paul Adams for listening to rap music Adams found “threatening.”
Al-Amin was at a gas station Thursday morning when Adams approached the teen from behind and stabbed him with a pocket knife. Adams admitted to the killing to police, saying the rap music the teen had been listening to in his car made him feel “unsafe.” Adams is white and Al-Amin was Black, white and Latino, KTLA reports.
Adams has a prior criminal history including theft, disorderly conduct, assault with a weapon and assault on a corrections officer and was two days out of prison when the incident occurred. He is charged with first-degree premeditated murder and is being held on $1 million bail. He is scheduled for his preliminary hearing July 15.
Records state he told police rap music makes him feel “unsafe” because he had been harmed by people who listened to rap music in the past, adding that he believed people who listen to rap music are a threat to him and the community.
Surveillance footage shows no altercation or interaction between Al-Amin and Adams before the stabbing. According to police records, Adams told police he did not feel threatened by the teen, but rather by the music itself, claiming he needed to be “proactive rather than reactive.”
Adams’ attorney, Jacie Cotterell, told the judge in the initial court appearance that her client had a history of mental illness and that he did not have sufficient support upon his release. She said he did not receive medications or a courtesy ride to obtain mental health care despite the department knowing he was on mental health probation.
However, a statement by the Arizona Department of Corrections declared Adams was not designated seriously mentally ill.
“Prior to his release, Inmate Adams was provided contact information for services in the community such as continuing care, housing, welfare as well as other community resources,” the statement said. “He was not designated seriously mentally ill (SMI).”
Scapegoating mental illness as a direct cause of violence and racism is common. When white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, news outlets like Fox News and The New York Times emphasized his troubled past and possible mental illness, though Roof denied being mentally ill and refused to reveal psychiatric information in court.
Even if Roof were confirmed mentally ill, the reality is that mental illness does not directly cause bigotry and violence — white supremacist radicalization does. In fact, those with severe mental illness are over 10 times more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes, according to MentalHealth.gov.
With the hashtag #JusticeForElijah, Twitter users are speaking out against Adams’ mental illness defense and demanding the crime be treated as a hate crime.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker tweeted, calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a hate crime investigation:
“Another one of our children has been murdered in a heinous and unprovoked way—the DOJ must investigate this hate crime immediately. RIP Elijah. #JusticeForElijah”
“Young Black teens are being murdered in the US for wearing hoodies, playing with toys, listening to rap music, standing outside a store,” a Twitter user said. “This is a racial issue, not a mental health issue. These people are white supremacists and terrorists. Tired of this s**t. #JusticeForElijah”
Another Twitter user echoed the statement, pointing out the double standard that exists when white men are excused of crimes while Black men receive no benefit of the doubt:
White man kills someone*
Them: mental illness
*Black man kills someone*
Them: “Animal” “Thug”
My point is…..they always making excuses. They blame everything on mental illness.#JusticeForElijah
— Janee Renee (@janee_renee02) July 8, 2019
KTLA reports Arizona does not have a separate “hate crime” charge, but that if Adams is convicted, prosecutors could seek a hate crime enhancement that would lead to stronger sentencing.
In a tearful interview with KVOA.com, Al-Amin’s father remembers his child as a happy-go-lucky and good young man who always tried to help others and had plans to go into hotel management.
“You took a helluva kid,” he said to KVOA.
There is a “Justice for Elijah” GoFundMe page.
Correction: Elijah Al-Amin was fatally stabbed by 27-year-old Michael Paul Adams. A sentence in the original article indicated that a shooting occurred.