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The killing of Khalid Jabara

Hate, murder, and America

My friend Mohammad—he goes by Mo—is a car guy who sold me a Honda Element years ago. I thought then, think now, how oddly wonderful it was that a Muslim was selling a Jew a Japanese SUV in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I saw hope in that, metaphor in that, America in that. Mo’s last name is Jbara. 

A man named Jabara was murdered in Tulsa on August 12. It wasn’t Mo, I knew that. Different spelling, and the man’s name was Khalid—but how many Jbaras are there in town, how many spellings, and how do you ask a friend if he no longer has a brother, a cousin, a son? Mo, in fact, knew Khalid Jabara and his family. One night a week, Mo and his friends, including some of the Jabaras, go to a church (in which most are not even congregants) to play cards. It’s not a religious thing. Emiratis, Syrians, Jordanians, Saudis, Iranians, Iraqis, Muslims, Sikhs, Lebanese Christians—all come together to kibitz about children, elections, sports, culture, the old country. Many of their parents still live in the Middle East, but their children are here. Their lives are here. They are Americans. Mo threw out his Jordanian passport. Many are Republicans, conservatives. They hate DAESH more than you.

But they also get stopped at airport security more than you.

“What do you mean he’s not coming?” Mo recalled someone saying about Khalid Jabara’s father not showing up to the card game. “A shooting. Who? Why?” 

As news spread, some of the card group went to the Jabara home to check on the family.  There were barricades. All were kept back.

That’s how they found out about Khalid. 

You know the story. Stanley Vernon Majors, a neighbor who shouldn’t have had a gun, who shouldn’t have even been a neighbor, shot Khalid for the crime of being a Muslim, even though—and this mattered little to Majors—Khalid wasn’t a Muslim, he was a Lebanese Christian. 

The day of the shooting, Khalid Jabara, who lived at home with his parents, called 911 to report that someone was tapping on the windows of his home. He then called 911 again after learning from Majors’ husband, Stephen Schmauss, that Majors was armed with a gun and had fired a shot inside the couple’s house.  The police came out. They knocked on Majors’ door, no answer. They left. Minutes later, Jabara walked onto his front porch, called his mother and told her not to come home because Majors had a gun. While he was still on the phone, Majors shot him.  

Majors was hiding behind a tree when the cops found him.

In 2009, Majors was sentenced to 16 months in prison for threatening to “terrorize” Los Angeles. He served less than a year.

In 2013, in Tulsa, the Jabara family filed a protective order against Majors after he assaulted them with threats and harassing emails (“Fuck you Arabs, Fuck you bastards.”) and broke into their car and stole documents. The order was granted and ignored. 

In 2015, Majors ran over Haifa Jabara, Khalid’s mother, with his car while she was out for a walk. She spent weeks in the hospital with a broken shoulder, a collapsed lung, and fractured ribs. 

Police charged him with felony assault and bail was first set at $30,000. Majors posted bond. District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler objected. After a second bond hearing, the bail was increased to $60,000. Majors posted that bond, too. 

“We wanted no bond or alternatively $300,000 bond,” Kunzweiler recently told the Tulsa World. “We got neither. Because of the proximity of the family’s home to the defendant, we requested ankle monitoring and, if possible, relocation. The judge’s ruling was initially a $30,000 bond. He then doubled it to $60,000 without bond conditions despite our stated concerns.”

Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker said, regrettably, that’s how it works. Bad guys get out.

“There are many guys we don’t want out who get out. Guys charged with murder get out on bail. But that’s the system,” Walker said.

Drew Diamond, former Tulsa police chief, agreed, but said the dysfunction goes deeper.

“A more engaged community policing officer may have been able to work with the court to ensure a high bond be maintained,” Diamond said. “Further, they might have spent more time and creative problem-solving intervening during that last call to the suspect’s house. What we heard from TPD were all the reasons they felt their hands were tied and that they did all they could do. Introspection seems to be lacking.”

Walker dismissed that last point; he said the options were limited (the last 911 call by Khalid was, he insists, somewhat vague). But he agreed with Diamond about community policing—up to a point. 

“Had the same cops been called who knew about the situation, then, yeah, it might have been diffused, but how do you do that in every situation? We’re an organization and we’re stretched thin and we get a lot of calls and a lot of people want us,” Walker said.

When I asked Walker what else could have been done to prevent Jabara’s murder, he paused for a long moment.

“Knowing what we know now, sure, but at the time,” and then he trailed off. “We could have knocked down Majors’ door and shot him, okay, but imagine the repercussions had we done that?
I can tell you that everyone wanted to save Khalid.”

Rami Jabara, Victoria Jabara Williams, Jason Williams, and Jenna Carl Jabara

Khalid’s family immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s from Lebanon. The family settled in Tulsa and raised three children. Khalid’s brother became a lawyer; his sister works in marketing. Khalid ran a catering business with his mother.

Their story is an American one. 

In October of 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain was told by a woman at one his rallies, “I can’t trust Obama. He’s an Arab.”

“No, ma’am,” McCain responded. “He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. He’s not an Arab.”

McCain got a lot of credit for that—but he never told the woman that there’s nothing wrong with being an Arab.

Khalid Jabara was killed because of his name and skin tone, because he was neighbor to a man who doesn’t want an America where Jabaras live next door. 

The dog whistles are getting louder in this country, the winks and nods to people like Majors more overt. 

Aliye Shimi, outreach director of the Islamic Society of Tulsa, has never seen it this bad. 

“Since this platform has opened, since this presidential election, I can’t tell you how much hate and bigotry there has been against people of Hispanic descent, Middle Eastern descent,” Shimi said. “And we see it day in and day out. And if a presidential candidate can say it without anyone reprimanding him, it must be okay for everyone else to act on it. We haven’t experienced this much hate, this kind of rhetoric, even after 9/11.”

A recent Georgetown University study on the connection between rising Islamophobia and the 2016 elections confirms Shimi’s assertion. “Anti-Muslim violence remained significantly higher in 2015 than pre- 9/11 levels, with American Muslims approximately 6 to 9 times more likely to suffer such attacks,” the study says. “The number of incidents in 2015 is also higher than the total number of anti-Muslim hate crimes reported in 2014: 154.” 

We’ve always had racists in this in this country, but Stanley Vernon Majors is now part of something else in America—a polluted underbelly that’s now tolerated, encouraged. It believes—insists—political correctness, affirmative action and, of course, immigration have caused America’s decay.

Muslims, Sunnis, Shia, Kurds, Syrians, Iranians, Pakistanis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Ay-Rabs, Al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, Army Captain Humayun Khan and his Gold Star parents, Omran Daqneesh, Khalid Jabara—they’re all the same, the nativist alt-right and its leaders seem to be saying, let’s find out what the ones here are up to, let’s keep the rest of them out. You want to know why America’s not great anymore? Look across your yard.

Majors went out to look.

I meet Victoria Jabara Williams, Khalid’s sister, and Jenna Carl Jabara, his sister-in-law, for coffee.  They’re running late; they’ve been at the courthouse—their second home for the next few months, years maybe. 

THE TULSA VOICE: What story is not getting out?

VICTORIA: Let me think about this for a second. At first we thought it was being painted as a feud, but I do think the news did a pretty good job of showing this was instigated by one side, and that the judge—I guess you could say, the system—failed us. Even the DA said we did everything right.  We filed protective orders, we stayed on top of the district attorneys—[Majors] ran over my mom with a car and he got out. I mean, why did he get out in the first place?

JENNA: [The $60,000 bond] was laughably low… Families and victims are not pieces of paper.

VICTORIA: It felt like negligence and indifference.  My sister-in-law is an attorney, my brother is an attorney. We’re all educated and if we’re our own victims’ advocates, we did everything we’re supposed to. What about those that don’t have the voice and don’t know? How are they getting screwed?

TTV: Did Majors ever say what he wanted from your family? Did he tell you to move?

JENNA: There was no endgame. He didn’t say. It’s like he had a vendetta.

VICTORIA: It was racially based, for sure. I have to wonder, if my brother, my parents were white Oklahomans, Joe Schmo, maybe he wouldn’t have had such an issue. I don’t know. He wrote us letters, said he was going to call immigration. I mean, my family have been American citizens since ’89.

TTV: This is a personal pain, but it’s being played out publicly. That changes the dynamic, yes? You are, for many, the face of Lebanese Christians right now. 

VICTORIA: Yeah. People tell us they’ve been to that steak house [Jamil’s].

They both laugh—it’s a particularly wonderful sound considering their grief. 

TTV: Is that an extra burden for you, knowing you and your pain are being watched? 

VICTORIA: Yeah, but not so much as Lebanese Christians, but as innocent victims, innocent humans. It’s important for the world to know our faith, because that’s how we are—not because we’re that religious—especially because the media and this neighbor perceive us to be something else.

TTV: Islam?

VICTORIA: Yes. We have a cultural identity, as Lebanese Christians, not just a religious identity.

TTV: Do you feel the need to tell people you’re not Muslim?

VICTORIA: I’ve battled with that because CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) set up a fund for my brother. They’re liberal Muslims, community activists and I’ve had some Lebanese Christians—I don’t know if I’m going to get in trouble for saying this—but there have been some people who sent some texts, posted on Facebook, asking if there’s another place where they can donate.

TTV: Why?

VICTORIA: Because they were afraid of what’s down the road, and on that donation page, there’s a woman with her head covered.

TTV: They didn’t want the association? What did you tell them to do?

VICTORIA: I said “Donate to the church or don’t give.” 

TTV: What happens now? Are you going to sue the city?

VICTORIA: It’s early, but I want to. I don’t know how successful we’ll be.

TTV: Who do you sue, anyway?

JENNA: You can’t sue the judge; you can ask for his resignation. You want to sue everyone right now. It’s a very raw time, but at the same time, we’re angry, sad, but we’re trying to keep the focus on awareness on the justice side of things, of the negligence that goes on, that there’s a human being behind every piece of paper, and on the other side—the hate crime side—bringing awareness to the fact that Oklahoma even has a hate crime statute. (In addition to first-degree murder and possession of a firearm after conviction, Majors has been charged with malicious intimidation as a hate crime.)

TTV: Do you want them to seek the death penalty?

Victoria exhales, scrapes down her styrofoam coffee cup and runs her finger inside the cup holder placed for protection.

VICTORIA: My family wants justice, but I don’t think they know what that means yet because they’re hurting so much.

TTV: What have you felt from the rest of us, from America?

VICTORIA: Locally, community-wide, nationwide, it’s been phenomenal, but on a political, official elective level, Hillary [Clinton] got in contact. Valerie Jarrett, [special advisor to the president] also called. It was genuine, sent the president’s condolences. Congressman Tom Cole left a voice mail; Mayor Dewey Bartlett gave a statement, Mayor-elect Bynum came to the memorial service.

TTV: So what about the tone of America? Trump and intolerance and your brother’s death?  They related?

VICTORIA: It’s a stretch to make the connection, but it hasn’t helped. I mean, Majors is uneducated and ignorant. I don’t think he’d even show up to vote. He’s been a bigot his whole life and will be whether Trump’s in office or not. But you can’t help but see how the more mainstream these comments are, the more socially acceptable they are for people to say them. People are saying about Trump, “We like that he’s not politically correct.” By the way, Lebanese Christians are also voting for him, as crazy as that sounds.

JENNA: The tone right now encourages a society where we start to think these comments are okay to make. It’s a dangerous place. One family friend, a family physician, says he’s afraid to go out with his wife because he says he looks “too brown”—and that’s right here in Tulsa. And that’s a direct result of all the compounding stories we’ve been hearing, and that fear-based, bullshit rhetoric is making it mainstream and making it okay.

VICTORIA: We grew up in south Tulsa, super integrated in the Jenks School System. I had a name like Victoria so it was a little easier, but Khalid had a very Arabic name and he looked more Middle Eastern. Rami, my brother, while he had an Arabic name, he is blonde with green eyes. I don’t know if it ever was really an issue for Khalid living in our local community, but I know it was on his mind. The ironic part is, that’s what killed him. 

Portions of this story first appeared on Public Radio Tulsa.

For more from Barry, read Dewey Bartlett's long goodbye.”

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