Popal will be tried

Omeed Aziz Popal, the Fremont, California, man who went on a car fueled rampage in August, during which he killed one man and injured 18 others (including one woman who ended up paralyzed from the neck down) will be tried:

Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, faces 18 counts of attempted murder for the Aug. 29 rampage. Judge Mary Morgan of San Francisco Superior Court found that he was competent to be tried after reviewing a nine-page report from a court-appointed doctor.

The doctor wrote that Popal, who has been confined to the psychiatric ward of San Francisco General Hospital, had reacted well to a recent change in medication.

The trial should be interesting. Many people (myself included) suspected that this was a “driving while Muslim” crime. We were quickly assured by the PC police (and by the real police) that it wasn’t. The trial should be helpful in providing a little more information.

I feel that, even if Popal isn’t altogether there (and I think there’s a very good possibility that this is the case), that doesn’t necessarily mean that his religion wasn’t a motive. As I’ve often pointed out, when people are truly insane, their insanity still tends to reflect their societal belief systems. In the old days, insane people believed they were witches (or that witches were acting against them). In the 1950s to the present, Western schizophrenics often have space alien obsessions. It therefore wouldn’t surprise me if Popal, whether clinically insane or not, had an anti-Western or anti-Jewish obsession.

Another thing that should prove interesting about the trial will be the media coverage itself. As I noted, in the wake of Popal’s attack, everyone in the media and the SF Administration was swift to assure us that Islam had nothing to do with it. That wasn’t the case two months later when, tragically, a mother of six in the same community was gunned down. As Don Quixote pointed out, the very first supposition was that she was killed because of her religion.

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Media bias?

Speaking of Popal, the Fremont, California Muslim man who ran down every pedestrian in sight, remember how quick everyone, including the mayor of San Francisco, was to reassure us that there was no evidence this was a religiously-motivated hate crime (never mind that the fellow went 40 miles out of his way to mow down people near a Jewish center)? 

Yesterday, a Muslim woman was gunned down in cold blood in the same Fremont, California.  Think everyone eagerly hasten to reassure us that there was no evidence this was a religiously motivated hate crime?  Right.  Check out the way the crime was reported:

Although police have not determined a motive for the killing, some of Ansari’s relatives said that it was a hate-crime because the victim was wearing a hijab, a tradition Muslim head scarf.

Or try this story:

 Islamic community leaders met with the Ansari family Friday and joined them in calling her death a hate crime.

 Or this:

Some relatives, however, wonder whether Ansari was targeted because of her appearance.

Ansari, a native of Afghanistan, was Muslim and usually wore a hijab, or head scarf, two relatives said.

Or this:

By Thursday night, detectives had not revealed a motive for the crime, but Hamoyon Ansari, the victim’s brother, thought it was racially motivated.

Gee, there’s no media bias at work here.  With a complete lack of evidence either way, the media rushes to reassure us that there is no evidence that a Muslim who kills does so for religious reasons and rushes to share with us speculations of family members and “Islamic cimmunity leaders” that, when the victim is Muslim, it probably was a hate crime. 

By any measure, this is an unimaginable human tragedy.  An innocent mother of six is gunned down in front of her 3-year-old child.  But what possible reason is there for the difference in coverage? 

No answers soon re Popal

Yesterday was the preliminary hearing for Omeed Aziz Popal, but there won’t be any answers soon.  The court suspended the case indefinitely pending psychiatric review to determine if he’s competent to stand trial:

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Alyson Little heard Feinland’s motion and ordered that Popal, 29, return to court Friday for a hearing in which a psychiatrist will be appointed.

As he ushered Popal’s relatives out of the courtroom, Feinland told reporters that he could not talk about the case and only explained the significance of Wednesday’s hearing.

“It means the court will appoint a psychiatrist to evaluate Mr. Popal and determine if he is competent to stand trial,” he said.

Deputy District Attorney James Thompson refused to comment after Wednesday’s session, and referred all questions to a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, but she did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Popal has been charged in San Francisco with 18 counts of attempted murder, 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and single counts of assaulting a peace officer and reckless evasion of a police officer.

In Fremont, he faces charges of murder and use of a deadly weapon (his vehicle) during the commission of the crime, both in connection with the hit-and-run on Fremont Boulevard near Decoto Road, where Wilson was killed.

What’s a little more interesting is a claim coming from Susan Rajic, the women whom Popal paralyzed during his rampage:

Meanwhile, spokespersons for a woman who was paralyzed as a result of the Aug. 29 spree — which killed a man in Fremont and then hurt 18 others in San Francisco — said the victim nearly was struck by Popal’s vehicle a week before the incident.

Speaking to reporters after a brief hearing in which Popal was slated to enter a plea, attorney Debra Bogaards and legal guardian Keith Stoneking said 43-year-old victim Susan Rajic recently identified Popal as the driver of a vehicle that almost hit her a week before the incident.

“I questioned her three or four times and she definitely said it was him a week prior,” Stoneking said. Rajic was walking outside her Sacramento Street apartment building, about a block from the Jewish Community Center, when she was almost hit, Stoneking said.

“She just thought it was another crazy driver in San Francisco,” he said.

Rajic’s claim raises a lot of questions.  The most obvious, of course, is whether she’s retrofitting her memory.  We all know that memories are extremely fallible, and people fill in past gaps with information they glean in the present.  If she’s correct, however, that opens two possibilities.  Either it means that Popal was out to get Rajic, which seems bizarre given that they had no connection whatsoever, or it means that Popal’s driving degraded significantly whenever he was nearing the San Francisco Jewish Community Center.  If that last is true, jihad may be back on the table.

By the way, even if Popal is insane, that doesn’t mean jihad is off the table.  First of all, crazy people’s delusions tend to reflect the world around them.  Up until the modern era, delusional people thought they were in league with the Devil.  In the 1950s, delusional people got instructions from martians.  It would be unsurprising that Popal, if he were indeed clinically delusional, tapped into the jihadist rage swirling around the world.

Second of all, to say someone is insane doesn’t free them from the defending their conduct.  Conversationally speaking, I personally think it’s insane to murder people in cold blood.  That is, if I hear about someone who was not in a combat situation or was not acting to protect his life or the lives of those around him, but who nevertheless decided to kill, I might remark, “He’s crazy.”  However, we all know that doing behavior that’s outside the norm, including horrific, brutal, violent behavior, does not mean that one is legally insane.

The legal standard for craziness (the famed M’Naughten insanity standard) is whether the perpetrator could not distinguish right from wrong at the time he committed the crime.  Since our western norms demand “criminal intent” for a criminal conviction, the defendant’s failure to understand that he is committing a wrongful act prevents conviction.  This means a person can be crazy and still be guilty, because he knows that it is wrong to act on his delusional beliefs.

In other words, Popal could have been convinced that the San Francisco JCC, and all roads leading there, were the home for an international Zionist conspiracy that needed to be wiped out.  That thought would be delusional.  However, if he also knew that it was not his responsibility to clean up this dangerous site, but he nevertheless did so, and he intended to kill people in the process, while he’s still delusional, he’s not legally insane.  And he’s a jihadist.  Alternatively, if he thought he was God’s angel sent on wings of Gold to turn San Francisco into a Muslim Paradise, and that he had no control over his actions, one could argue that he was legally insane on the M’Naugten scale.  Only time will tell where Popal falls in the scheme of things.

More on Popal — and it’s not a jihad if you’re not Jewish

The Popal plea hearing is being continued so as to allow further psychiatric evaluations. He may indeed be crazy, and that would be an effective end to the newsworthiness of this tragedy (although it will continue to resonate forever for his victims and their families). I found interesting, though, local coverage about why the media has concluded that Popal wasn’t motivated by “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” (“SJS”). It turns out, according to at least one newspaper (the Oakland Tribune, whose reporter authored the following story, which has been widely distributed in local papers), that it’s only SJS if Jews die:

The hour-long rampage, which has garnered national media attention and drawn speculation among Internet bloggers that the spree was an act of terrorism, began in Fremont about noon Aug. 29, when witnesses said an SUV hit Wilson as he walked north on Fremont Boulevard near Decoto Road.

Wilson rolled onto the vehicle, hit the windshield and then landed in a nearby field, where he remained as the driver — identified later as Popal — sped off. Wilson was pronounced dead at the scene.

About 30 minutes later, the same SUV arrived in San Francisco and began barreling over 18 people in separate incidents in the city’s Laurel Heights neighborhood.

At first, some speculated that Popal, an Afghan Muslim man, suffered from “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” and was carrying out a terrorist mission against Jews because one of the crash sites was in front of the Jewish Community Center.

But those rumors quickly lost steam when police disclosed that the victims were of all ages and races, and when Popal’s family said he suffered from mental illness.  [Emphasis mine.]

This makes for a nice bright line in coverage.  The jihadist preaching that is a cornerstone of Islam is nevertheless unrelated to attacks by more radical Muslims, so long as Jews are not the primary targets.  In other words, 9/11, Madrid, Bali, the bombings in Africa, the young Islamic men who have used cars as battering rams in North Caroline and Arizona, the attacks against Christians in Indonesia, etc — none of these are Jihad because they’re not directed against Jews.

I’d like to thank the media for clearing up all confusion.  Thanks to this helpful definition of Jihad, I now understand that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.  That scary Jihad doctrine applies only when the attacks are against Jews, in which case, jihad though it may be, the Jews had it coming because they’ve had the temerity to try to protect their nation from destruction and the citizens from death.

Just a few notes from Popal’s rampage

I haven’t forgotten the Popal rampage, and thought I’d update you on a couple of stories that are still filtering through.

First, the tragedy: Popal’s rampage left a 43 year old woman a quadriplegic:

It was Susan Rajic’s birthday Friday. The 43-year-old massage therapist was supposed to go out to dinner to celebrate with friends in San Francisco, the city where she had moved from Puerto Vallarta just last month.

But Rajic — who came to the city in part because she loved to walk — now lies paralyzed from the neck down in a San Francisco General Hospital bed, the most severely injured of the 19 people hurt in a hit-and-run rampage Tuesday that also killed a Fremont man.

The driver who allegedly struck Rajic, 29-year-old Omeed Aziz Popal of Fremont, faces one count of murder, 18 counts of attempted murder and other felonies. Popal is being housed in the psychiatric jail ward of the same hospital where doctors are treating Rajic.

Doctors have told her family and friends that the sport utility vehicle that hit Rajic and threw her against a parked car broke her neck and that it is unlikely she will ever walk again. The Honda Pilot struck her as she crossed California at Laurel Street about 1 p.m. near her home.

Rajic has some sensation in her hands and shoulders, but she is unable to move her fingers and has no movement or feeling in her legs, doctors say. She underwent a 4 1/2-hour operation Wednesday in which doctors removed a portion of her hip bone and used it to bridge a gap where they had to remove a vertebrae that was pressing on her spinal cord.

My very deepest sympathy to Ms. Rajic, and my best wishes to her as she adjusts to a very different new phase of her life.

Second, the local Afghan community is denying that Islam has anything to do with Popal’s acts, a view that deserves some respect pending more information about Popal himself. What’s startling about the report I read is that one prominent Afghan/Muslim community spokesperson has acknowledged that it’s not unreasonable or racist for Americans to be questioning whether there is a religious component to Popal’s acts:

Rona Murtaza Popal, president of the Afghan Women’s Association, who is not related to Omeeda Popal, said the increased scrutiny has led members of the Afghan Coalition, an umbrella organization of local Afghan groups, to plan a news conference to discuss some of the issues facing the local Afghan community.

But Popal wants to know the motive before making a public statement about the case. And like members of the media, she has had little success in contacting the victim’s parents.

“Afghans are extremely afraid,” Popal said. “After 9/11, people didn’t want to leave their homes. We don’t want these incidents to happen. We came here because we wanted to be safe.”

Still, Popal said, she understands the fears about domestic terrorism.

“I don’t blame them. I understand how they feel,” she said when asked to respond to the online comments. “In Afghanistan, we lived in fear of terrorism. That’s why we left.”

It’s actually striking in today’s news climate to hear this open admission that it’s reasonable to be afraid of Muslims.  The opposite and dominant view (which Ms. England stated and Best of the Web skewered) is that we’re utterly irrational to be afraid of Muslims and that it’s our fear that is damaging these fragile souls so much that they’re impelled to go on murderous rampages.

Maybe it’s not insanity after all

Regarding Omeed Aziz Popal, the Asst. DA in Alameda said something fascinating:

Also Thursday, Alameda County prosecutors charged Popal with one count of murder and an enhancement alleging that he used a car as a deadly and dangerous weapon in the hit-run death of Wilson, who was struck on Fremont Boulevard near Decoto Road.

Witnesses said the driver of the SUV that hit Wilson appeared to do so intentionally, “without even pausing or applying the brakes,” said Assistant District Attorney Colton Carmine of Alameda County.

Carmine said that although statements by Popal’s relatives could lay the foundation for a defense based on mental illness, “it’s fairly beyond dispute that this person went to two universities in the Bay Area and had a large circle of college-educated friends.

“So this notion that this is a horrible American society is just infuriating to me. All I know is that he took advantage of this society, used the resources we make available and did this horrible thing where, only but the grace of God, there weren’t additional murder victims in San Francisco.” (Emphasis mine.)

Popal required to undergo psychiatric evaluation

Well, it’s official: Popal’s defense will be that he’s crazy:

A San Francisco judge ordered a detailed psychiatric report today on the 29-year-old Fremont man charged with 18 counts of attempted murder stemming from a hit- and-run rampage that prosecutors said was premeditated and involved a plan to kill a police officer.

The defendant, Omeed Aziz Popal, “said he wanted to kill a police officer but didn’t see any” as he drove around San Francisco in the middle of the day Tuesday, picking off pedestrians with his sport utility vehicle, prosecutor Jim Thompson told Superior Court Judge Donna Little.

Thompson made the statements in arguing against bail for Popal, who is being held in the psychiatric ward of San Francisco General Hospital.

Popal told authorities that he had been thinking about killing someone for a day before he allegedly set off in his Honda Pilot, ran over and killed a 54-year-old man in Fremont and drove to San Francisco, where as many as 19 people were struck in about a dozen locations.

Will Maas, a public defender, quickly interceded to stop the bail discussion, and Popal’s arraignment was delayed until Sept. 6. Popal was not in court.

Outside court, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Popal suffers “serious mental illness” and called the attacks “a horrible tragedy.”

Members of Popal’s family have said he suffered from psychological problems recently and had been hospitalized at least twice.

It could well be true — or not. The fact is, from here on out, whatever information comes in regarding his motives and conduct, it will be slotted under the “insane” heading.

And now, here’s a snarky sarcasm alert. Don’t read the next sentence if you can’t handle snarky sarcasm. Given the number of young Muslim males who have had insanity attacks, whether in San Francisco, or Seattle, or Arizona, or North Carolina, maybe we have to consider whether the pressures of living in a pluralistic, Democratic, non-Sharia society are too much for their delicate sensibilities.

By the way, to shift the focus away from the living and to the dead, here is a very lovely word portrait of Stephen Jay Wilson, whom Popal killed.

UPDATE: The family busily spins the (maybe true) insanity story.

UPDATE II: It appears that Popal is truly delusional:

Family members said Popal could be rational and calm. But he had also been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had been hospitalized at least twice in recent months after suffering breakdowns, relative said.

At 29, Popal still lived with his parents in Fremont. His mother was especially sheltering, seeing the world as filled with “evil people” and trying to keep Popal from being harmed, said his cousin, Hamid Nekrawesh.

“Since he was a little kid, they had been overly controlling of him,” he said. “They tried to keep him away from evil situations, in their mind, and that had a negative effect on him. He just didn’t have any friend or anyone to talk to except mom and dad.”

Last spring, Popal was voluntary committed to Kaiser Medical Center in Fremont after a breakdown brought by a dream of “the devil taking him to a graveyard and trying to kill him,” Nekrawesh said.

Not long after, Popal went to his native Afghanistan for a marriage his family had arranged.

“He was supposed to be taking medication,” Nekrawesh said. “From what I heard from his mom and dad, when he was in Afghanistan, he was perfectly fine. When he came back, all these problems occurred.”

In July, Popal confessed to a murder in San Francisco, saying he had stabbed someone, said Majeed Samara, an attorney who represented Popal until Wednesday. Police concluded there was nothing to the story and took him to Washington Hospital in Fremont for psychiatric evaluation. The hospital concluded he posed no risk to himself or others and released him.

In other words, the fact that his religious identity aligns perfectly with other young men in America who have recently engaged in acts of mass (or attempted mass) murder, is a mere coincidence.  I don’t fault any of us, though, who believed that Popal’s religion is a relevant part of the story, to be considered with all the other available facts.  It also says a lot about the degradation of modern news reporting that so many of us — and I put myself in a front row seat on this one — suspected that the Press was trying to cover up his religious identity, rather than being forthcoming with it.  In any event, it’s a tragedy no matter how one looks at it.