EVEN FOR A city used to senseless crimes, the brutal rape of an 11-year old girl in Kensington last week was particularly shocking.

Like many Philadelphians, our hearts went out to the girl and her family, and we couldn't help sympathizing with the group who beat down Jose Carrasquillo, a man sought for questioning by police in the incident.

However, two people shouldn't have been in the cheering section: Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

You could almost hear the wink in the mayor's voice as he publicly distanced himself from the mob-style justice administered in Kensington. "Generally," he said, "we don't condone . . . "

The police commissioner was not much better with his statement that the "community took this to heart."

Is this really a problem?

After all, Nutter and Ramsey were only saying what many were thinking. But, at moments like these, it's up to city officials to stand on principle and remind the public that vigilante justice is no justice at all.

Why? Exhibit A: Michael Zenquis. After police put out a description of the rape suspect and the Fraternal Order of Police offered a $10,000 reward, Zenquis was beaten by a group in Kensington and sent to the hospital.

There was just one problem: he was innocent. The street mob decided to be judge and jury, even if the wrong person was badly beaten as a result.

By refusing to condemn vigilanteeism, Nutter and Rasmey were also complicit in the assault of an innocent man.

But, the problems with street justice go beyond mistaken identity. We are supposed to live in a system of laws.

Those laws exist especially for times like these. Because everyone, no matter how criminal, has the right to a fair trial before a jury of peers.

This is important not only because it is in our Constitution, but is also differentiates us from the criminals that prey on our communities.

More troubling than Commissioner Ramsey's remark was his quick conclusion that there was nothing to proseucte.

Scroll back to earlier this year or to either of the uniformed vigilante incidents and these same understanding city officials had no problem finding their moral compass.

They pledged immediately to review videotapes and any other available evidence.

The commissioner, in one of his freshman-year moves, suspended three cops, set two for dismissal and demoted one. The FOP, which you would think would appreciate the irony of these differing responses, is silent on the disparity.

Finally, while this incident is being seen as defining in this neighborhood, a better index of its vigilance is that a grown man could walk up to an 11-year-old school girl and her sister in broad daylight, accompany her inside a day care where the sister was dropped off and, even after day-care workers were suspicious of him, then walk four blocks looking for a safe place to accost his victim.

Where was all that neighborhood vigilance then? *