NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday dismissed complaints that a citywide emergency alert with the Chelsea bombing suspect’s name amounted to profiling.
Early Monday, the city’s Office of Emergency Management used its citywide alert system for the first time to pass on information about a criminal suspect. It included the name of suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami and his age of 28, but advised, “see media for pic.”
Rahami, who is suspected in the bombing that left 29 people injured in Chelsea Saturday night and two other incidents in New Jersey, was apprehended in Elizabeth later in the day Monday.
An article on the website Boing Boing complained that the message amounted to a “Muslim hunt,” and said it “encouraged people to treat anyone who looks like he might be named ‘Ahmad Khan Rahami’ with suspicion,” the Boing Boing article by Rob Beschizza said.
“In a country where people are routinely harassed and assaulted for just appearing to be Muslim, this is remarkably ill-advised,” Beschizza wrote.
On “The Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC radio Friday morning, Mayor de Blasio said the complaint was an “absolute misunderstanding,” and called the use of the alert “very effective” and “very necessary.”
“We had a guy here that we knew was armed and dangerous, who we knew might be capable of other very substantial acts of violence. We had to get everyone’s full attention,” de Blasio said. “We had to get everyone’s full attention. We also knew that the image would be around instantly given the reality of modern communications.”
De Blasio said the city wants to do better with the alert system, and to improve the technology, but he said there was no profiling involved in the alert.
“I really find it the worst of Monday morning quarterbacking for people to critique an approach that actually helped catch a terrorist,” de Blasio said.
The mayor also explained why he chose not to call the Chelsea bombing “terrorism” right away, when other officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo did. De Blasio said too few facts were available in the immediate aftermath of the bombing to use such a word.
“Speculation is not a smart thing to do, because it often improves wrong,” de Blasio said.
He said within the first two hours of the bombing, all the mayor and police knew was that the explosion had been an intentional act.
“However, when you say terror – and our deputy commissioner John Miller, who’s one of the leading experts on terrorism in this country made clear, terrorism has a very specific definition under the law where there’s political intent. We did not know at first whether this might be a personal vendetta; whether might have been a conflict between an employee and an employer. It could have been anything,” de Blasio said.
Rahami was wounded in a shootout with police before being arrested Monday. He was ordered held on $5.2 million bail.