A white man suspected of killing a black teenager in Arizona reportedly claimed that he felt “unsafe” because the teen was listening to rap music.
On July 4, 17-year-old Elijah Al-Amin entered a Circle K convenience store in Peoria, Arizona, shortly after getting off work. He was followed inside by 27-year-old Michael Paul Adams, who approached the teen from behind and allegedly stabbed him with a pocketknife and slit the boy’s throat before fleeing the scene.
Shortly after the incident, Adams was arrested near the store with blood on his hand and the knife still in his possession. A July 4 statement from the Peoria Police Department noted that officers were still looking for information about Adams’s motive, but a July 5 report from the Arizona Republic said Adams allegedly attacked the teen because he “felt threatened by the music” Al-Amin was playing in his car.
“Adams told police rap music makes him feel ‘unsafe’ because he had been attacked by people who listen to rap music in the past,” the outlet reported, citing police records filed in local court. “He also said people who listen to rap music are a threat to him and the community.”
The report added that Adams said he was only threatened by the music and had no interactions with the teen before stabbing him. Adams reportedly claimed he felt a need to be “proactive rather than reactive.”
Adams has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held on a $1 million bond.
The case has outraged Al-Amin’s family as well as the broader public, who argue that at a time of high-profile incidents of black people being harassed or confronted in public spaces, listening to rap music should not have cost Elijah his life. The hashtag #JusticeForElijah trended on Twitter on Monday as users shared articles about the boy’s killing and called for the case to be investigated as a hate crime by the Department of Justice.
But critics are also angered by an attorney’s claim that the attack was motivated not by racism but Adams’s untreated mental illness. Al-Amin’s family says that argument is being used to minimize the attack on their son, adding that they believe he was the victim of a hate crime.
An attorney said Adams’s poor mental health led to the attack. Al-Amin’s family says it was a hate crime.
Two days before Al-Amin was killed, Adams had been released from state prison. A lawyer who represented Adams at an initial court appearance argued that Adams wasn’t given medication or other support upon his release. “They released him to the streets with no medication, no meds, with no way to care for himself,” lawyer Jacie Cotterell said at a hearing shortly after Adams’s arrest. “This is a failing of the Department of Corrections. This is easily foreseeable and that is an issue.”
CNN reports that Cotterell only represented Adams at the initial hearing and is no longer his attorney. A public defender has not yet been appointed to represent Adams.
The Arizona Department of Corrections has since countered that Adams “was not designated seriously mentally ill” when he was released. “The tragic death is terrible, and Mr. Adams will have to answer for his alleged actions,” spokesperson Bill Lamoreaux said in a statement.
Al-Amin’s parents have argued that Adams’s attorney was using an “excuse” to defend the death of their son, a rising high school senior who was killed weeks before his 18th birthday.
“If you’re saying that his music is too loud, you’re going to kill him?” Elijah’s father, Rahim Al-Amin, said in a recent interview with Arizona’s 12 News. “I mean like, if he asked Elijah to turn it down, he would’ve probably turned it down. That’s just who Elijah was. ‘Oh, my bad.’ That’s probably what he would’ve said.”
In recent days, activists and observers have highlighted similarities between Al-Amin’s death and other incidents of violence against black teenagers. One commonly cited example is the 2012 death of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old black teen shot and killed when a white man fired into a car. The man had previously argued with Davis and his friends over their music, complaining that it was too loud.
Other observers have pointed to the 2018 death of Nia Wilson, a black 18-year-old stabbed as she waited for a train at an Oakland BART station. Advocates and community members argued that Wilson’s death was clearly the result of a racially motivated hate crime, but the man who attacked her, John Lee Cowell, was not indicted on hate crimes charges.
Advocates are clearly concerned that something similar will happen in the Arizona case. But for now, nothing is really clear until Adams’s case moves forward. He is currently scheduled to appear in court on July 15.
Days after losing her son, Al-Amin’s mother, Serina Rides, said that ultimately, she wants justice. “He’s a good boy. He’s a good baby. He’s my baby, and I have to bury him,” Rides told CNN on Monday. “I’m on my way to bury him right now.”