My first thought was, "Thank you, Kensington, for ensuring that the guy never rapes little girls again."

Never mind if he hasn't been charged or convicted. Beaten by an angry mob? Didn't bother me.

Yeah, I said it. As a mother of two daughters, I believed it with every fiber of my being.

After all, this was a guy suspected of repeatedly raping an 11-year-old girl Monday on her way to school, an attack so vicious that the fifth grader required surgery.

Jose Carrasquillo, 26, isn't exactly an Eagle Scout. He's an unemployed addict on probation for drug charges. Oh, and did I mention that he was once charged with attempted rape (the charges were dropped), and that police are investigating whether he was involved in other assaults?

The Fraternal Order of Police stands ready to give a $10,000 reward to the two teens who initially cornered Carrasquillo. And Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey were tepid in their condemnation of the well-intentioned vigilantes, probably figuring a little self-policing beats the "stop-snitching" culture they often face.

"The people took it to heart," Ramsey said, coming this close to congratulating the neighborhood's actions but issuing his perfunctory warning against vigilante justice. "It says a lot about the community."

Carrasquillo is sure to get a whole lot more than a kick in jail - that is, if he's the guy who did it.

If he's the guy. And here's where we all have to step back and take a deep breath.

At the time of the beating, Carrasquillo, who was released from the hospital yesterday, hadn't been charged, only identified as the nebulous "person of interest" by police. As of this writing, he was still being questioned but hadn't been charged.

So, if you really believe in justice, that if looms mighty big. And should give us all pause.

Is justice truly served by adopting a mob mentality and taking matters into your own hands?

The danger of mobs - which are usually not well-intentioned - is that they play by their own rules.

There's a reason lynching is banned. As is torture - supposedly. And police brutality.

And, yes, street justice.

Would we feel the same if it were Latinos pummeling a white suspect or a white mob beating up a black suspect?

Or the police beating up anybody?

I'm guessing Ramsey is breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that one of his own wasn't involved this time. The commissioner said this week that no charges would be filed against the neighbors - for him, an easy call.

Fact is, we have laws and systems in place to mete out justice. True, sometimes those systems don't always work fairly. But even then, we can't break laws in an effort to enforce them.

It's a slippery slope we dare not slide down.

On the streets of Kensington, Cheron Mickie is still not sure. While the 20-year-old mother of a young son understands "as a parent" the outrage people could feel over the rape of a child, "it's kind of crazy what they did," she says of her neighbors.

"They could have handled it better," Mickie says. "If it was me, I would have found another way for him to stay put. . . . What if they would have killed that man? That would have been a bigger issue."

As in, what if Carrasquillo would have died?

For Luis Cardona, 45, stepfather to two daughters, "what they did was right. He was lucky I wasn't out here because I would have done the same."

Understandably, judging from the varied opinions in the neighborhood, there's a fine line between what's right and what's wrong.

Especially when it involves a crime as heinous as the rape of a child.

And no matter how much we're tempted to look at Jose Carrasquillo and say, "Good for you," the kind of street justice he endured is never good for us.

No matter how deserving we think it is.

Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com. Read her work: http://go.philly.com/annette