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August 03, 2018

The state GOP is correct: Mayor Kenney should apologize for his too-quick hanging-doll rhetoric

He shouldn't offer a mea culpa directly to President Trump, though

Opinion Mayor Jim Kenney
Carroll - Weccacoe Playground Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Weccacoe Playground.

These are not normal times in which we’re currently living, but there is a level of predictability to each twist and turn.

Such was the case on Thursday when a black doll was found hanging from a wire with a noose around its neck at a South Philadelphia playground, an incident that quickly prompted lines to be drawn.

On one side, you had people crying staged hoax after video of its removal was captured and disseminated. On the other, you had people – myself included – whose initial reaction was to link it to the hatred oozing out of the state of American political and social discourse.

At the scene, Police Commissioner Richard Ross added that “this is the type of behavior that happens that makes you sick, particularly in this day and age and in this city.”

Said Mayor Jim Kenney in all-but-instant statement, “It demonstrates how far this country has fallen when people are inspired by the hateful rhetoric of our President.”

Today, I’m convinced that they both probably wish they could take back those words, or at least have waited a few minutes until something called fact-based reality arrived.

I say that because the doll wasn’t hanged to instill racial and historical fear into a populace. Rather, it was the work of two teenage boys who claim ignorance about the racial underpinnings of a prank designed to disturb passersby.

On Friday, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio issued a statement slamming Kenney for his rush to judgment.

You can read it in its entirety via this link, or (partially) embedded below:

“Mayor Kenney owes the President an apology. In fact, he owes the citizens of Pennsylvania an apology.

“Subscribing to the ‘never let the facts get in the way of politics’ theory, Kenney blamed the President for a racially insensitive teenage prank without regard for the truth. It is this kind of pre-judgment that causes such divisiveness in our political discourse today.”

I agree with DiGiorgio – up to a point. 

That the president has empowered some people to wear their racist (or other vile) tendencies like a badge of honor isn’t a difficult case to make.

Sure, one could argue the prevalence of cellphone cameras factors into this, but there is an indisputable uptick in race-infused confrontations seen, regularly, across the country. 

Those on the receiving end of this sort of ignorance are quick to tell me it’s not at all a new thing, but the visceral edge by which people speak their minds is sharper than ever before.

All of which is to say that today’s political discourse is already so damaged that Kenney’s rush to judgment won’t register – for long – as much more than a blip.

I also don’t think “Mayor Kenney owes the President an apology.” 

This is a guy who never apologizes for anything, continues to put journalists at risk by branding them “enemies of the state” for political gain (something which has happened since the doll was discovered) and lives by the mantra that it's OK to insult anybody who dares not kneel to lick his boots.

Where I do agree with the head of the state GOP is that Kenney should hold off on these sorts of statements until he actually knows what happened.

Trump supporters in South Philadelphia didn’t lynch a black baby doll, as many wanted to initially believe for God only knows why. Kids did.

Even as a token gesture, Kenney admitting that he was wrong “in the name of civil discourse and political reconciliation” would be a wise move. Apologizing to citizens he branded – by intimation – as despicable would prove he’s a better man than one who never admits fault.

His position is too powerful for it to be continually be diminished by the rapidly eroding tenets of respect in this country.

Yes, some people are inspired by Trump’s hateful rhetoric, but missteps like Kenney’s will only embolden them to pretend that’s not the case.

So I say this: 

Jim, it's time to publicly acknowledge you went overboard Thursday. What happened wasn't what you thought happened. It's this sort of thing that will diminish future statements, and make it easier for your critics to dismiss them outright.