Everybody's a little on edge these days, and maybe that's why two men in the exurbs of Los Angeles allegedly lost it this week and threatened their neighbors with swords.
These two incidents were unconnected but strikingly similar. There was, however, one difference. One suspect was Muslim, the other was white. One of them was treated as a potential terrorist, and the other was not. And the two now face starkly different prison terms if convicted.
First up is Mohamed Ahmed Elrawi, 57, who allegedly threatened a neighbor with a sword on Monday at his Victorville apartment complex.
“Multiple independent witnesses heard him say he would kill the victim and that he would kill and die for Allah,” Sgt. Dave Burgess, of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, told the Weekly.
Elrawi was arrested. Victorville deputies notified the Sheriff's Intelligence Division and conducted a search.
“A Quran and other items were located inside the suspect's residence, leading investigators to believe Elrawi may have been a radicalized Muslim,” Burgess told the Victorville Daily Press, which ran the story under the headline “Possible Radicalized Muslim Arrested.” From there, the story made its way to Jihad Watch.
Two days later, Edward Petress, 44, allegedly chased two of his neighbors with a machete and shouted threats at them, according to Tustin Police Sgt. Andy Birozy. Petress then holed up in his house for a few hours before surrendering to police. According to jail booking records, Petress is white.
Both incidents involved the same weapon. In both cases, the suspects had prior run-ins with the law. And in both cases, nobody was hurt.
Here is where the stories diverge. First, there was no talk of Petress being “radicalized.”
Second, Petress is being held on $50,000 bail. Elrawi's bail is 10 times that — $500,000.
And third, Petress was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, which generally carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. (He has not yet been formally charged.) Elrawi, meanwhile, has been charged with attempted murder, which carries a potential sentence of life with the possibility of parole.
So: two very similar crimes with strikingly unequal potential outcomes. Now it's true that Elrawi allegedly threatened to kill his neighbor. Birozy said he did not know what Petress allegedly threatened to do. However, both men were booked on accusations of making criminal threats.
It also does not appear that Victorville police believe Elrawi was acting on behalf of a terrorist network. Burgess noted that the Quran may well have had nothing to do with the incident.
“Certain times we search houses and we find Bibles,” he told the Weekly. “At this point, we don't have anything to confirm or deny what his motivations were. He may be suffering from some mental health issues, I don't know.”