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« Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 68 | WILLisms.com | The Gaza War Continues »

Questions About The San Fran SUV Rampage

Omeed A. Popal, 29, was arrested yesterday after a vehicle rampage straight out of Grand Theft Auto. He is an Afghani, and Muslim, and his attacks took place in a 'jewish' neighborhood of San Francisco, ending up in front of the Jewish Community Center at Presidio and California streets.

Is this a potential act of 'terrorism'?

The Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as "..the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85)

It is possible for a lone deranged wacko to be found guilty of terrorism - there need not be an organization or a coherent plan for it to be a terrorist attack. You may remember the case of Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian who shot and killed two Israelis at the El Al counter at the Los Angeles International Airport on July 4, 2002. Hadayet was killed by a security guard. The FBI did a thorough investigation of the attack, and determined that this lone gunman had in fact committed an act of terrorism. One report concluded that " Hadayet hoped to influence U.S. government policy in favor of the Palestinians."

KTVU in San Francisco televised a report including a statement from a witness that Popal said he was a terrorist. However, a cousin of Popal's reported that he had "recurring nightmares about someone coming to kill him", and another that Popal was stressed about his recent arranged marriage in Afghanistan. So, is he a terrorist, a crazed paranoid, or a stressed-out newlywed? Or all three?

Another question people are asking is whether this is a 'hate crime' under California law. The California hate crime statute is defined as follows:

As defined in California Penal Code section 422.55, hate crime means “a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: (1) Disability, (2) Gender, (3) Nationality, (4) Race or ethnicity, (5) Religion, (6) Sexual orientation, (7) Association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.”

'Hate crimes' in California are not crimes in and of themselves, but are sentence enhancements of 1-3 years imprisonment for other crimes that are found to include one of the elements noted above.

There were 137 hate crimes convictions in California in 2005, with anti-Jewish crimes being the most common among crimes based on the victim's religion.

If Popal indicates to the authorities that anti-Jewish sentiment was at all responsible for his attacks, he will most likely spend extra time in prison when he is convicted. And convictions look assured at this point.

Hate crimes are a bad idea. As odious as it would be for Popal to have committed these attacks out of racial hatred, this does not make his victims any more dead or injured than if he just did it for laughs. Or because he wanted to try driving on the sidewalks of Liberty City.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 30 August 2006 01:25 PM