Just a few days into his first year in office Mayor Kenney was faced with one of the worst situations a Mayor can imagine: a police officer shot and a link to global terror as an alleged motive.
This is when we need leaders to step up. Kenney did much that was right but slipped on at least two important parts of the job.
What does a Mayor have to do in this situation?
First, it is important to always get to the scene of the crime and in this case, the hospital, to demonstrate presence and control. Kenney did what we would expect from a Mayor in this regard.
Second, express concern for the officer, his family, and colleagues speaking not only on your behalf, but for the community at large. Kenney expressed the views of all of us.
Third, show that the city is in good hands in terms of security by allowing your police commissioner to take center stage. That also happened just as it should. I was impressed by Commissioner Ross’s performance. He projected clarity, empathy, intelligence, and the right tone of anger. A good hire!
Fourth, de-escalate the situation by distinguishing the perpetrator from the general law abiding Muslim community and mainstream Islam. I take some issue with the way that Kenney did this. His statement lacked nuance. He did not say, for example, as George W. Bush would have, that the perpetrator has a deranged view of Islam, but rather that his actions have no relationship to Islam. Actually, they may have a connection to a radical apocalyptic practice of Islam that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject.
Fifth, jump to no conclusions until we know more. This is where Kenney really fell down on the job. The Mayor reached conclusions before the investigators have answers.
via CBS 3
His conclusions: This was a problem of a deranged criminal enabled by too many guns on the street. In staking this claim, Kenney worked from ideology more than facts.
Kenney did not say, as George W. Bush would have, that the perpetrator has a deranged view of Islam, but rather that his actions have no relationship to Islam. Actually, they have a connection to a radical apocalyptic practice of Islam that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject.
Here is what we know about the case:
- The shooter, Edward Archer, is a 30 year old with a police record for a wide variety of things, from terroristic threats to firearm violations to forgery; in fact he was due for a court appearance today in Delaware County.
- Archer used a 9mm Glock 17 allegedly stolen from a police officer in 2013. He fired multiple shots (as many as 13) into the police car to attempt to assassinate the officer. He has now officially been charged with attempted murder, among other charges.
- The police officer, 33 year-old Jesse Hartnett, remarkably got out of the car, returned fire, and pursued Archer who was easily captured by other officers a few blocks away.
- Archer confessed to the shooting and gave his Islamic faith as motive, saying he took a pledge to support ISIS. His line of argument for the shooting: the police enforce anti-Muslim laws and therefore he has a religious duty to stop them.
- Initial investigation of his computers and other personal belongings show no communication with radical Islamic groups or websites but it is early in the search. As far as the ISIS connection, they have a low barrier for entry: you publicly pledge allegiance to caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the ISIS regime.
- Archer’s mother noted that he has been mentally unstable, suffered head injuries, and was hearing voices in his head. His brother told Fox29 that he was not mentally ill. The brother viewed the actions more through the lens of an anti-police attitude related to conflict between the police and the African American community. None of the prior arrest records—at least from what we know today—show evidence of mental illness.
- Archer traveled outside the United States to Saudi Arabia in 2010 to participate in the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and to Egypt in 2012, according to the FBI. He spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia and several months in Egypt. Egypt in 2012 was rocked by demonstrations and the eventual election of Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi was pushed from power one year later.
We are at the beginning of an investigation, which will shed light on the crime and its motive. Here is what we want to learn:
- Where did the gun come from? What was the path of ownership and exchange since it was stolen from the home of a police officer in 2013?
- When Archer was in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, did he have contacts with anyone that could lead to radicalization? Moreover, there is a puzzle that has to be solved: How does someone with limited income travel and live in Egypt for a good part of a year?
- Is this more an issue of mental derangement than anything else? In other words, is Archer’s use of radical Islam the rationale of a delusional criminal? And how will this get parsed professionally or legally, given the fact that arguments about mental capacity can be so contentious?
- Who knew what locally? Were there workplace, mosque, family or social network clues that have to be uncovered? Was there anyone else involved in the crime (a look out or spotter) or had he discussed it with anyone?
Kenney’s conclusion that this was a problem of a deranged criminal enabled by too many guns on the street worked from ideology more than facts. And the problem with ideology, on the right or the left, is that it begins with a conclusion and then identifies facts to confirm its narrative.
If you are on the political right, you quickly jump to the conclusion that this was all about radical Islam and had nothing to do with guns or mental illness. You believe what the guy who committed the crime says about the crime he committed. Moreover, the gun was stolen from a police officer’s home, so no anti-gun legislation would have prevented that.
If you are, like Kenney, on the left, your first instinct is to blame mental illness, criminality, and guns: emphasizing the lack of connection between the actions of a deranged individual and a religion. You are angry about limited gun laws and the lack of mental health resources.
The problem with ideology is that, on the right or the left, it begins with a conclusion and then identifies facts to confirm its narrative. On this point we need much more from our leaders. We have to let an investigation take place and follow the facts where they lead.
And what it if turns out this was not the act of a mentally deranged criminal but a lone wolf terrorist (with a criminal record) who took his cues from the current ISIS injunction to attack? As a city and a nation we have to continue to face uncomfortable facts: on the one hand, not falling prey to prejudice and bigotry and, on the other, not pretending that all the facts are as we want them to be.
John Adams famously declared that facts are a stubborn thing. Kenney would be wise to ally himself with Adams and let the facts first speak for themselves before making declarations of intent. This is no longer Jimmy From the Block, giving his opinion.
He is the Mayor now. So he has to tighten it up.
Header Photo via Philadelphia Police Department.