Phila. Chief Johnson: Practicing Islam Affects His Work


Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson is a Muslim and may be the only police chief in the country who is, says the Philadelpha Inquirer. Johnson’s faith became an issue for some city when this month he publicly contradicted and upbraided his department’s counterterrorism chief, Inspector Joseph O’Connor, who had angered Muslims by saying the city was “notorious” for funding and recruiting terrorists. Johnson acknowledged to the Inquirer that Islam shaped how he handled the fallout from O’Connor’s comments Sept. 1 at a mosque. Johnson said his race and his religion have affected his approach to his job, sensitizing him to unfair branding of any group.

“Islam does not teach killing people. Islam does not teach crime. Islam does not teach violence or terrorism. That is not Islam,” Johnson said. “For [O’Connor] to make that statement, and blanket the entire Islamic community, is totally wrong.” Muslims now number in the hundreds in a Philadelphia force of 7,000. Most of Johnson’s family – his wife and two of his three sons – are not Muslim. Some question how Muslim the police chief is himself. “He’s someone who says he’s a Muslim. There’s a difference between a Muslim and a practicing Muslim,” said police officer Kenneth Wallace, a Muslim. Wallace grew his beard beyond the department’s quarter-inch regulation length in observance of Islam and was ordered home until he trimmed it. Following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, many Muslim men wear beards, and some scholars say it is a religious obligation. “You don’t wear religion on your face,” the commissioner said. “You wear it in your heart and mind.”


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