Landlord Murders 6-Year-Old Muslim Boy in Heinous Hate Crime

landlord murders child

In the heart-wrenching case of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, a cherished child fell victim to a horrific hate crime perpetrated by his landlord, Joseph M. Czuba. Amidst media silence, Expert and Tenant Rights Attorney Leah Goodridge speaks to this tragedy that underscores the chilling power dynamics in landlord-tenant relationships and the urgent need for justice and tenant protections in our communities.


Power Dynamics Exposed: Expert and Tenant Rights Attorney Leah Goodridge Shines Light on Media’s Complicity and Silence

*Trigger Warning: This article contains graphic depictions of child abuse, torture, and child murder, as well as acts of extreme violence against a woman. Discretion is advised.

6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume was fond of crayons, Legos, soccer, and his landlord, a 71-year-old man who now stands accused of killing him in one of the most horrific manners possible.

This case came to light initially in mid-October 2023, when Joseph M. Czuba, an Illinois-based landlord, allegedly entered his tenants’ dwelling space enraged over global affairs. He proceeded to fatally stab the 6-year-old boy, who trusted and knew him, 26 times with a military-style knife.

Suspect Czuba also allegedly attempted to murder Wadea’s mother, Hanaan Shahin, through a combination of stabbing and strangulation. Shahin narrowly survived the violent encounter but harkened back fretfully to the moment her landlord barged into their home to attack her and her young son while screaming, “You Muslims must die!”

Landlord Murders Child but Is Referred to by Mainstream Media as a Neighbor

NBC News reports that tenant Hanaan Shahin was petrified when her landlord, a conservative-leaning senior who lived in the basement of the home he presided over, forcibly entered her rented unit armed with a military-style knife.

She described a nightmare scenario, made all the more hellish by the fact that he was someone they knew, someone this Palestinian family not only trusted but also needed to sustain an amicable relationship with because he was, indeed, their landlord. This position of power means he held the keys to their home and, tragically, their lives as well.

According to the victim’s eyewitness account, 71-year-old Czuba initially took a liking to her son, going so far as to purchase gifts for him and even buying him a trampoline. But all that changed as Czuba started to tune in to mainstream media, eventually adapting a bigoted view of Muslims that extended even to the small child.

He started to harbor an insatiable hatred against his tenants, which was a deadly combination because, as the landlord, he could access the family and exact his revenge without any intercession.

Imagine the horror this mother and son felt when the man who lived in their basement and had the key upstairs, plus the power to evict them at will, stormed in and demanded they pay for current events with their lives. 

Imagine the confusion a 6-year-old boy might feel when the landlord he perceived as a friendly, gift-giving neighbor flashed a shiny weapon angrily in the air. Imagine the sheer horror the first time that knife pierced his skin or the pain of the 26th puncture. Imagine him seeing his mother viciously stabbed, not by a stranger, but by a man he’d come to know quite well. Through the eyes of a child, do we not see the world?

Even before the violence took place, imagine the vulnerability this mother must have felt in the beginning when the landlord crossed the line and became overly friendly with her son. Was there some small part of her that didn’t want to accept the gifts, that felt forced into an unnatural “friendship” where all of the power swung the other way?

This story fully embodies the sentiment of our nation today, from the unfavorable landlord-tenant power dynamic to the subtle but impactful media bias followed by radio silence that all too often accompanies the deaths of minority children in America.

We spoke with tenant rights attorney Leah Goodridge, who expounded more on the former point and the media’s reluctance to call it out by name.

Tenant Rights Attorney Leah Goodridge Explains Why Power Dynamics Exist and Can Lead to Violence

“There is a power dynamic between tenants and landlords,” Goodridge said. “And one way that manifests is that people don’t name the power dynamic.”

 Attorney Goodridge is referencing mainstream media’s reluctance to introduce the aggressor as the landlord right up front when running the story, namely in the headline or the first couple of sentences, which would be ideal. Initially, the accused perpetrator was described instead as a neighbor, a local, or, in some instances, simply a 71-year-old man.

“I thought it was really interesting because, in the very beginning, it was just Boy Murdered,” Goodridge said. “And I was like, well, who? Who? Who murdered him? And I was shocked when I delved deeper into the stories to find out in, like, the third paragraph that it was his landlord. Because my first question was, How did this murder even happen out in the street? How did this man even get access to the boy? And then I read somewhere that it was in the family’s apartment, and I’m thinking, well, is this person a family member? And, perhaps more importantly, who is this man to the boy who he murdered?”

“I was shocked to find out that it was his landlord. And if there was a headline that said Landlord Murdered A Boy Who Was His Tenant While Stabbing One Of His Parents, then that would clarify at least five different questions. But the fact that this was buried in some articles when the story was first presented, I began to question why. It was another way of trying to erase the power dynamic.”

While adding this element of anonymity is one way that mainstream media erases or minimizes the power dynamic, it is not the only tactic that behooves landlords at the expense of their victims.

“The second way the power dynamic manifests is that people pretend that they (the tenant and the landlord) are on equal footing,” Goodridge added. “So, if you talk about a tenant who is facing eviction, sometimes people will follow it up with, oh, and then also, small landlords, they suffer so much. They’re losing money.”

“In reality, there is just no equivalence. But that is an example of people trying to put the two parties on equal footing when one has power over the other. For one party, the landlord, it’s a business. For the other party, the tenant household, it’s survival. So, I think that it’s really important when we’re talking about landlords and tenants to name that dynamic, especially in cases where violence occurs.

“In this instance, I thought that the original way the story came out was that it almost read as if the murderer was just some random person on the street,” Goodridge continued. “It was as if to say that someone was so upset that they came up to strangers on the street and did this. This is because as soon as you say landlord, there’s a little bit of intentionality to it. So, by refusing to acknowledge the power dynamic and pretending the parties are on equal footing, the act of aggression itself is minimized.”

“When you say landlord, it creates a very different setting as opposed to strangers having a random encounter because you have to have gone to their apartment, and you have their spare key. All of that is imputed.”

This Thinly Veiled, Rarely Acknowledged Power Dynamic Gives Landlords Access to Commit Crimes

We’d like to believe disturbing events such as this are uncommon, but Leah Goodridge said that simply isn’t true.

“There is an overall wider issue about the fact that tenants are being murdered at all,” said Goodridge. “And this happens much more often than I think the average person is aware. I started a Twitter thread a couple of months ago discussing the sheer volume of incidents where tenants are murdered by their landlords. I told people it would need to be updated every couple of weeks. They couldn’t believe it was that common, but it is.”

According to Attorney Goodridge’s observations, access plays heavily into the power dynamic and is a critical component in these crimes.

“I think that the access is different,” she said. “This is not the same thing as two strangers who never knew each other, and then they interact. You know the person. You know where they live. If they deny you access to them, they can’t lock their door and shut you out. You have a spare key. You can go and open it against their will.”

“The point is that landlords and tenants are not on equal footing,” she continued. “One has a great deal of power over the other plus a huge amount of leeway provided by coded language in the media.”

“Let’s just say your landlord comes down, and they say, ‘I wanna talk to you. I’m upset, I wanna talk to you about this political issue going on.’ Even if you want to decline, many tenants feel they might have to think twice about putting up a boundary with their landlord because maybe they’ll get evicted. So, that’s how the power dynamic plays into access. And, then, if you did put up a boundary, the landlord has a spare key.”

This Case is Already Dying in the Media and the Court System. Justice Looms in the Balance.

Another aspect Goodridge mentioned was the fact that violent landlords tend to target minorities, people they think will get less coverage in the media and less sympathy from the public.

“I think in this particular case, the minimization of the power dynamic here also fits into the wider narrative that when Palestinians are killed, it doesn’t matter. We’re all supposed to just go to work, look away, and carry on like nothing’s happening, she said.

At this time, Islamophobia is at an all-time high in America, and this case is going cold in the media and the court systems.

According to the Daily Herald News website, Joseph Czuba was indicted on eight felony charges, including murder in the first degree. However, the investigation has been delayed, and the minimal media coverage has subsided. It is almost as if we’re being lulled into quiet acceptance.

This absurd assertion that Muslim children are somehow less innocent and, therefore, less deserving of everything, including the right to live, is an unsettling trend in modern mainstream media. Sometimes, it isn’t what is being said but what is not being said. It isn’t just which crimes are being punished but which criminal cases are being pushed quietly aside.

Joseph Czuba has since celebrated his 72nd birthday. 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume did not live to see it. His parents recently divorced after 30 years of marriage. Vows have been broken. Communities live in fear. Now is the time to be louder, not quieter. Today is a day to be heard.

Please Talk to Your Local Legislators About Increasing Tenant Protections

The power dynamics that exist between US citizens should not be so disparaging that one of them can literally get away with murdering the other.

As homelessness runs rampant across the country and everyday workers wrestle with astronomical rent increases, politicians are quietly passing even more laws that work in favor of landlords and at the expense of renters. Please talk to your local legislators about increasing tenant protections today.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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