Did St. Raphael try to shoot a police officer?

An early 20th century pearl-handled Smith & Wesson revolver, similiar to the gun St. Raphael was accused of using

In my last article, I wrote about the “Battle of Pacific Street” — the gunfight between Syrian Orthodox and Maronites in Brooklyn on the night of September 18, 1905. As I said before, St. Raphael Hawaweeny fled the scene and was chased (and then arrested) by a policeman, Officer Mallon. According to Mallon, St. Raphael pulled out a revolver and tried to shoot the officer. According to St. Raphael, he did no such thing, and, for that matter, had never even handled a gun in his entire life.  

The next day’s newspapers weren’t in agreement about what had supposedly happened. On one end of the spectrum was the Times, which didn’t even mention a gun. At the other extreme was the World, which not only reported that St. Raphael had a revolver, but that he ”snapped” it at Officer Mallon. Accounts began to crystallize on August 20. In that day’s issue of the Sun, we find this:  

[Officer] Nallin says he saw two men break away. He gave chase. One of them was the Bishop, who was hot-footing it toward home. Nallin grabbed the episcopal coat tails. It was then, Nallin avers, that the Bishop turned around and shoved a pearl handled pistol in his face. He snapped it twice, but it didn’t go off.  

The Tribune (9/20), also citing Officer Mallon’s sworn testimony, reported that St. Raphael had snapped the revolver three times, rather than twice. The Sun also reported Officer Mallon’s accusation that St. Raphael had actually fired the revolver in the battle, before turning it on the policeman. And here’s the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/19): 

[Officer] Nallin declares, and swore to his declaration in a complaint made against the bishop, that the prelate held the pistol at him and snapped it more than on ce. It did not go off, for maybe there were rim firing cartridges in a center firing gun; but this the police cannot know, for they have not found the bishop’s revolver, if he had one. Hawaweeny, the policeman says, then took to his heels in a most undignified way and ran away. Nallin was after him like a shot, for there were other policemen by this time attending to the other men in the shooting party, and he caught the bishop, as has been explained, hiding behind a wagon in the express company’s stable. 

What about St. Raphael’s own version of the incident? Here is what he told the World (9/19): “As soon as the firing began I fled and took refuge in a carriage shop. I did not have a revolver at any time during the excitement and this policeman who says I did knows that he is telling a deliberate falsehood. He admits that he did not find any weapon in my possession when he made me a prisoner.” According to St. Raphael’s followers, his arrest part of a pre-arranged plot, which allegedly included the police. The Tribune (9/20) offered this report: 

The friends of Bishop Raphael assert that his arrest was the result of a plot. Men were especially brought from Asbury Park and Fishkill, it was said, by his enemies to assault his followers. N. Maloof, one of the faction opposed to the bishop, was arrested Monday for assaulting one of the latter’s friends. He threatened, it is alleged, that Bishop Raphael would be arrested before midnight, and he was. The bishop’s friends say that he carried no revolver, but that one was supplied for the occasion by his enemies. He ran away when the detectives arrived because he believed he was being pursued by the men who threatened his life. 

We are left with three possibilities: 

  1. Officer Mallon was mistaken,
  2. Officer Mallon was lying, or
  3. St. Raphael was lying.

Now, let me say something up front, as we begin our analysis of the available evidence: I am a huge admirer of St. Raphael. He is, without question, my favorite American Orthodox historical figure. My own son’s middle name is Raphael, in his honor. It is impossible for me to be completely objective about this case, because I am admittedly biased in favor of St. Raphael. At the same time, I cannot simply ignore inconvenient evidence, or refuse to pursue possibilities that might leave St. Raphael looking less than clean. To be an honest historian, I have to look at everything. And so I will. 

Anyway, let’s consider what we can. Is it possible that Officer Mallon was mistaken? Of course. The incident happened after 11 PM, and this was 1905, so we can be certain that it was very dark. Accounts indicate that Officer Mallon chased after two men — St. Raphael, and someone else. It is entirely plausible that the other man pointed a gun at the officer. Also, the newspapers indicate that many people came out into the streets to see what had happened. According to the Tribune, by the time Officer Mallon arrived at the scene, the mob “numbered nearly two hundred persons.” The two dozen or so combatants were scattering in all directions, trying to avoid being either shot or arrested. So there were plenty of people in the street at the time. 

Even Police Inspector Cross, who took charge of the case, was skeptical of St. Raphael’s guilt. Inspector Cross received a letter from a Russian official, attesting to the bishop’s good character, and Cross responded, “I am investigating the matter, and I am satisfied that the Bishop is innocent of all the charges and accusations that have been made against him, and I shall be pleased to have you communicate this information to the Consul-General of Russia” (Sun, 9/22). The inspector questioned Officer Mallon, who, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (9/22) reported, said “that he could not be mistaken about it and that the bishop had pulled a revolver on him and snapped the trigger, just as he had sworn in court.” 

It’s also worth noting that most low-level policemen, like Mallon, weren’t trained in police academies like our officers today. Mallon may have been a police officer, but his value as a witness isn’t necessarily any better than your average man on the street. 

This leads us to our second possibility — that Officer Mallon was lying. See, besides being uneducated, many of New York’s policemen in 1905 were, to one degree or another, corrupt. Just a few months before all this chaos, another Officer Mallon was convicted of murder. I haven’t been able to track down our Officer Mallon’s first name, much less his biography, and it doesn’t help that literally each newspaper uses a different spelling of his name. But regardless of the spelling you use, there is a very, very distinct possibility that Officer Mallon was Irish. And if he was Irish, he was probably a Roman Catholic. Given that the Syrian war was between two religious factions, and one of those factions was itself Roman Catholic, it’s certainly possible that Officer Mallon lied to benefit his co-religionists. I don’t have any evidence for this, but it’s something that must be considered as we try to determine the truth. 

Finally, there is the remote possibility that St. Raphael himself was lying. Let us, for a moment, try to set aside the fact that we’re dealing with a canonized saint, and try to approach this with as open a mind as we can. St. Raphael Hawaweeny was an Orthodox bishop. He had good reason to believe that his life was in imminent danger. He left his house late at night to visit a parishioner who had been beaten earlier that day. Bishop Raphael brought with him a bodyguard of parishioners, at least some of whom were armed. Stop for a moment — might he have been armed himself? He might have been, but I think not. His best option would have been to run for the hills if anyone attacked, and that is precisely what he did. He probably was not armed. But what if one of those parishioner-bodyguards had thrust a revolver into his hand at the last moment? Is it possible that he took it — not intended to use it, mind you, but simply took it into his hand? I think we must admit that this is possible, albeit remotely so. Bishop Raphael may have had a revolver on his person when he ran from the gunfight. 

He ran, and was chased by someone. We now know that someone to be Officer Mallon, but did the bishop know this? Almost certainly not. As we’ve seen, it was very dark, and Bishop Raphael was running from a veritable riot. Surely he thought — I would have thought — that his pursuer was one of those Maronite enemies, coming to get him. In that situation, would it have been reasonable for him to pull out that revolver and point it at the pursuer? I think so. I probably would have done the same thing. I don’t think he would have intended to actually fire the gun, but he probably thought that his life was in imminent danger. Pointing a gun at your apparent attacker is a pretty normal reaction. Once he learned that his pursuer was not an attacker but a policeman, would he have thrown the gun away? Almost certainly. 

But – continuing just a little longer with the unlikely theory that Bishop Raphael was guilty – why would he compound the problem by lying about it afterwards? Why not just admit the mistake? It’s very possible that the bishop considered his position, and his flock, and the likely consequences (not just to himself, but to his ministry) of admitting to assaulting a police officer. He may well have felt that a sin — lying — would be better than the destruction of his ministry. And it’s hard to blame him if he did think along those lines. 

Okay, let’s stop this speculation now. Is the theory I just laid out possible? I think it is. Is it plausible? Is it likely? No, it is not. Given what we know of St. Raphael, given the realities of New York policemen in 1905, given that the alleged revolver was never found, given the specific circumstances of the case (nighttime, a crowded street, the probable assumption by the officer that all those at the gunfight were participants) — given all that we know, I feel pretty confident that St. Raphael never wavered in telling the truth. I do not believe that he tried to shoot a police officer. 

In this article, we have focused almost entirely on the single question of whether St. Raphael tried to shoot a policeman. But he was accused of numerous other crimes, and the whole story of his tribulations in late 1905 is not nearly over. There will be another riot, and another arrest, and many appearances in court. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to unpack, examine, and discuss the sad but compelling crisis that dominated New York’s Syrian community — and the life of St. Raphael — in 1905 and 1906. 

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]

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