January 14, 2016
You’re less than a week into your new job, a high-profile political position in a rabidly charged political world. And, out of nowhere, something arguably as challenging as most predecessors ever faced happens on your watch.
You have a hero police officer who’s still alive thanks to the grace of a God, in whom you believe, and the good fortune of a would-be killer’s weapon of death running out of bullets. That officer is in the hospital. Surgeons are working to save the arm that took three of 13 bullets fired at him. Like everybody else on the outside looking in, he knows it’s a miracle he’s not laying inside a zipped-up body bag.
You have a suspect who confessed to the deeds captured on surveillance camera for the world to see. You have his assertions that he tried to take the officer out in honor of ISIS, an enemy to the nation that was born in your city 240 years ago. And now, you have a press conference where you and the police commissioner you appointed will face the city, country and world.
You praise the policeman who got shot. You praise the policemen who caught the man who tried to kill him. Then, you use these 87 words to try to put it into big-picture perspective:
"In no way, shape or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam or the teaching of Islam has anything to do with what you've seen on the screen. It's abhorrent, it's terrible and it does not represent the religion in any way, shape or form. This is a criminal with a stolen gun who tried to kill one of our officers. It has nothing to do with being a Muslim or following the Islamic faith. And now, I'm going to turn it back over the commissioner."
“What I said was the 200,000 Muslims who live in Philadelphia are not represented by the actions of (alleged gunman) Mr. (Edward) Archer. That he is a criminal, and they are not criminals. I think it’s important that we make very clear that regardless of where this leads, those folks who are citizens, God-fearing taxpaying Americans, should not be painted with that broad brush." – Mayor Jim Kenney
Almost instantly, your name and your words find themselves in the sweet spot of an ever-churning news-and-opinion machine that needs controversy for sustenance. THE GUY ADMITTED HE DID IT FOR ISIS, FOR ISLAM, FOR THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD; YOU ARE PC-STATE CRAZY TO CLAIM OTHERWISE, YOU DANGEROUSLY LIBERAL MORON, they scream.
As you approach the end of your second week in office, you ain’t about to issue corrections or clarifications. You said what you meant and meant what you said.
You just wish that the people screaming for your head were cognizant enough to realize the actions of one man don’t represent the faith of billions, even if he said he tried to kill Philadelphia Police Officer Jesse Harnett on their behalf.
And you, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, are in the right.
On Thursday afternoon, Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross – who has one day less at the helm than the mayor himself – are again at a Roundhouse press conference involving the Hartnett shooting. They’re in the background, though.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a fellow Democrat, takes the lead since he’s at 7th and Race to learn what he and other federal officials “can do to support state and local entities in their efforts to prevent and respond to such incidents and to counter violent extremism.”
For five minutes – in front of a wall of nine television cameras – Casey talked dryly about “community partnership programs,” supporting law-enforcement programs, “the rise of a lone wolf problem” and how he invited Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “to come to Philadelphia and have a roundtable discussion.”
When he opened it up for questions, the topic turned to how Casey’s fellow senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, labeled the shooting an act of terrorism and radicalized extremism.
Kenney then got to the podium and said he doesn’t “think speculation is effective.” That everybody should wait for the investigation to be complete before projecting their impressions upon it. That's what he said has been perverted into something it isn’t.
“What I said was the 200,000 Muslims who live in Philadelphia are not represented by the actions of [alleged gunman] Mr. [Edward] Archer,” he said. “That he is a criminal, and they are not criminals. I think it’s important that we make very clear that regardless of where this leads, those folks who are citizens, God-fearing taxpaying Americans, should not be painted with that broad brush. I think it’s important that we highlight that.”
That’s how I – as a journalist and as a citizen – interpreted Kenney’s initial comments.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why some people I’ve long respected – in my family, career field and friendship circles – refuse to see it through the prism of reality. I guess that’s the society in which we live, though. If you find a soundbite that validates your worldview, you put those blinders on and sprint off the turn into the social-media homestretch.
Pulled aside by a handful of reporters while trying to leave after the presser, Kenney chalked it up to a 24/7 information cycle inhabited by “reality TV shows” masquerading as newscasts (or sites) and candidates who can use it for their political gain.
Rather than return to that maelstrom, he’s chosen to await the results of the investigation before saying whether it was an act of ISIS-fueled rage – as Archer allegedly maintained – or a bad man doing bad things with a stolen gun.
“We don’t know if it was an act of terrorism,” he said.
No, we don’t.
And just what exactly is the use of swearing up and down that it was before we know that with any certainty?
Other than boosting ratings and propagating the type of ignorance that results in pigs’ heads being thrown at houses of worship on Germantown Avenue, it’s of no use at all.