A Muslim couple said they were threatened by a man wielding a gun while house hunting in St. Louis, an event emblematic of the growing Islamophobia in America.
Rabie and Marwah Ayoub say they were looking for a new home when Leonard Debello asked the family if they were Muslim. They say he then shouted, “All of you should die,” before going inside his house to get a weapon and brandishing it at the couple.
“This state allows you to carry a gun and shoot you,” he allegedly said. “You, your wife and your kids have to die.”
An image obtained by local CBS affiliate News 4 appears to show Debello holding a gun while standing outside his home.
— KMOV (@KMOV) February 24, 2016
An officer with the St. Louis County Police Department told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that the case was still under investigation and would be presented to the prosecuting attorney’s office, but no action had been taken yet aside from a brief arrest on Sunday. Debello later told News 4 he regretted the incident and had forgotten to take medication for PTSD that day.
The St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for the act to be prosecuted as a hate crime. Faizan Syed, executive director of the chapter, said the event has stoked fear in the city’s Muslim community and prompted the local religious council to hold an emergency meeting. He said the incident wasn’t just directed at the Ayoubs, but rather the entire Muslim faith.
“That’s the nature of hate crimes, they don’t just target one specific individual or family,” Syed said. “The crime itself has implications for a group and the effects happen to everybody within our community.”
Syed said the rhetoric coming from the Republican Party during the presidential primaries, particularly from businessman Donald Trump, has “definitely mainstreamed Islamophobia,” and that acts of hate have spiked in the city.
“We now feel and we now see that it’s almost an OK reality to target Muslims, to bully Muslim kids,” Syed said, while noting this isn’t just about Islamophobia. “In America there is an issue of greater acceptance of intolerance to other people.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Rabie Ayoub said he now feared for his children’s safety, as the family currently lives just a few blocks from Debello.
“He wasn’t sorry when he pulled the gun, he wasn’t thinking about it. He was ready to shoot. If he shot me, my wife or kids, what’s his apology going to do,” he said.
The Huffington Post is documenting this wave of Islamophobic hate in America for all of 2016. You can take a look at the running tally here.