Thank you Mayor de Blasio: Calling a spade a spade - The Chelsea bombing

Mayor Bill de Blasio did what most people in his position would not dare do. He refused to call the September 17 explosion in Chelsea an act of terror. Instead he stated, “Here is what we know: It was intentional, it was a violent act, it was certainly a criminal act, it was a bombing — that’s what we know.” He continued, “To understand there were any specific motivations, political motivations, any connection to an organization — that’s what we don’t know.” This is what every public servant should do when responding to a major incident. Stick to the facts and keep politics out of it.

 

This is contrary to what Governor Andrew Cuomo stated regarding the Chelsea explosion. Cuomo said, “I believe the mayor was saying there was no connection with international terrorism and that is correct.” He added, "A bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism.” Why Mr. Cuomo is it that a bombing is obviously an act of terrorism? The law does not, by default, connect a bombing to terrorism. The definition of terrorism provided by article 490 of the New York State Penal Code does not mention the word “bomb” or “bombing” with the exception of references to previous bombings that are engraved in the hearts of Americans. Article 490 refers to article 70.02Sentence of imprisonment for a violent felony offence which discusses the placement of false bombs, but not bombs that have detonated. Article 490.05Act of Terrorism of the New York Penal Code states provides the exact conditions that need to be met in order for an act to be considered terrorism.

Although motivations for setting off a bomb in a civilian population may appear obvious, they are not, at least from a legal perspective. Building a case relies on evidence and facts, not speculation. Politicians should not take it upon themselves to determine the motivations of an offender, that is the role of law enforcement. Mayor de Blasio was right in taking the unpopular position of calling a spade a spade as discussed in my previous article The Pulse Nightclub Shooting: Terrorism, Hate Crime…Neither? In fact, when the connection to terrorism was clear a few days later de Blasio went on record stating, “we have every reason to believe this was an act of terror.” He waited for information to be factual before changing with his position.

It is important for the political leadership to label things appropriately, especially at the early stages of an incident. This ensures that public officials are on top of the incident and flow of information. The Mayor, NYPD, and all other involved law enforcement agencies would appear incompetent if they labeled the bombing an act of terror and then the evidence proved otherwise. Additionally, avoiding the misuse of labels ensures that the public is well informed. Mayor de Blasio believes that law enforcement (i.e. the experts) should draw the conclusions regarding the bombers motivations. This is the correct approach for a politician and the correct approach while discussing an ongoing investigation. He stated, “until we have that information it is not fair for us to give a conclusion.” When information presents itself, move forward, and change the label of the incident if the evidence supports the new position.

As a native New Yorker and a soon to be resident of the Upper West Side, I want to thank you Mayor de Blasio. Your leadership throughout this incident was unmatchable and refreshing in today’s political arena. You did not use the event to heighten your political standing or to push your agenda and in fact, might have even diminished your standing given the initial (responsible) position you took. As the evidence unfolded you avoided speculation and stuck to the facts. This is something that our elected officials at all levels of government should do. Although I have been out of the state and even the country for most of your tenure as Mayor of New York City I am excited to return to the greatest city in the world.