THE MAYOR and the police commissioner issued their edict from the loneliest corner in town yesterday: somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

It was the only middle ground anyone occupied after Commissioner Charles Ramsey disciplined eight of the 19 officers shown taking part in a May 5 videotaped beating of three suspects who fled from a shooting scene in the 3700 block of North 2nd street.

By executive order, Ramsey fired four outright, demoted one from sergeant to patrolman and hit three others with transfers and disciplinary suspensions of varying durations.

Compared to the internal turmoil that often attends these allegations of police abuse, the commissioner's actions were both swift and decisive.

So too were the reactions of rank-and-file police officers and an outraged group of protesters, including the mother of one of the beating victims.

Depending on which side of the thin blue line you stood, it was either a rush to judgment or too little, too late.

A band of protesters from the local chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network waved signs and shouted insults at Mayor Nutter's vehicle as he sped away from the news conference.

"Thugs in uniform, that's what they are," the group shouted to passing motorists.

"It's not enough," said Leomia Dyches, whose son Dwayne was one of the three suspects who Ramsey said had been beaten and kicked, even after they were handcuffed. "We want them all fired."

"It looks like a rush to judgment," John McNesby, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police chapter, told me an hour later. "They could have been taken off the street pending the outcome of a full investigation."

Domelights.com, a pro-police gripe site, crackled with caustic comments urging everything from a sickout to calls for cops to look the other way as they patrol crime-ridden neighborhoods.

So it went. Protesters and police took up customary positions on opposite sides of the chasm as the mayor and the commissioner slow-roasted in the heat from both sides of the great divide.

Neither side can be as certain as they claim to be about whether these officers received justice yesterday. But there was clearly no justice in what happened on the street that night.

The Fox 29 videotape clearly shows several officers in a heated frenzy beating and kicking the three suspects as they lay on the ground. You won't find this in any police manual in the free world.

The commissioner said he and his cadre reviewed an enhanced version of the tape repeatedly to determine whether the actions of the arresting officers "were within policy guidelines or outside." They found that 10 of the officers either acted in compliance with police procedures or had no physical contact with the suspects, Dyches, 24; Brian Hall, 23, and Pete Hopkins, 19.

"We take these matters very very seriously," Nutter said. "This action represents our efforts to ensure that officers and the public understand what is acceptable and, more importantly, unacceptable."

Nutter and Ramsey may be coming to an understanding, too. In a town that can polarize quickly around incidents of alleged police abuse, they have just placed themselves under intense surveillance from zealots on both sides of the divide.

Some think anything the good guys do to the bad guys is justified. Others see police as an army of occupation in their neighborhoods. Both will now view Nutter and Ramsey as politicians who place public sentiment above justice. It will be a recurrent nightmare as the trial of the three suspects parallel the criminal investigations of the police.

Ultimately, the policemen will have their cases heard by an "independent" arbiter. If that follows the usual script, they will be exonerated. "We win about 90 percent in arbitration," McNesby said. "It's not always what it looks like."

Maybe not. But when you're looking from between a rock and a hard place, it looks like more than the mayor and the commissioner should tolerate. *

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith