Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Crown Heights Situation (Part 3)

Here are some local news reports from New York City concerning several apparent hate crime incidents.

from The New York Times: Crowd Protests an Assault on a Jewish Teenager

A crowd of more than 300 Hasidic Jews, some shouting “We want justice!” marched in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on Friday afternoon to protest the assault and robbery of a Jewish teenager early that morning.

The protesters marched from the scene of the assault, at Empire Boulevard and Albany Avenue, to the 71st Precinct station, and then up New York Avenue to Eastern Parkway, where they blocked traffic. They were briefly stopped at Kingston Avenue by a line of police officers who stood arm to arm.

Traffic was reopened on Eastern Parkway at 6:10 p.m., and the crowd gradually dispersed around 6:45 p.m.

According to the police, the teenager, 16, left his house in Crown Heights around 12:10 a.m. on Friday and was attacked and robbed a short while later. He sustained a concussion and cuts on his face and hands, and his bicycle, watch and cellphone were stolen, the police said.

The beating of the teenager, identified by the protesters as Alon Sherman, is being investigated as a possible hate crime, and officers are looking for witnesses, the police said.

The protest was an outburst of tension in a neighborhood that erupted in 1991 with unrest and violence among Jews and blacks, who have coexisted in the area, usually peacefully, for decades.

Recently, black leaders expressed anger after a 20-year-old black college student, Andrew Charles, was attacked in the neighborhood on April 14 by two Jewish men, in what the police have described as a hate crime. On Friday, the police released a photograph of a man, Yitzhak Shuchat, 25, who is being sought as a “person of interest” in the attack on Mr. Charles.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at a news conference Friday morning that the police were investigating reports that Mr. Shuchat was a member of an unofficial Hasidic security group.

“There has been talk of a group that is not officially sanctioned or recognized,” he said. “If that is the case, we certainly frown on that.”

from » Ray Kelly Meets with Jewish Leaders About Attacks

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly visited The Schluchim Center Monday night to talk with local Jewish leaders about the recent rise in racial attacks.

People who met with Commissioner Kelly say the message they wanted to get across is that the incidents aren't a Jewish issue or a black issue, but a problem facing the entire community.

“We are happy he came but we're still concerned the police department isn't realizing the severity of the situation,” says Rabbi Yosef Jacobson.

Commissioner Kelly listened to concerns and noted that crime was lower now than it was in the 1990s.

Rabbi Jacobson says the most recent attack occurred Saturday night when members of his congregation were attacked while walking home from a Sabbath meal. Additional incidents involved a Jewish teen allegedly being beaten and attacked on Friday and a young black teen allegedly attacked by a group of Jewish men last month.

and from The Jewish Week: Jewish Outrage In Crown Heights

Outraged by a continuing series of violent attacks against Jews in Crown Heights, hundreds of protesters from the Chabad-Lubavitch community rallied last Friday in the Brooklyn neighborhood outside the local police precinct calling for a greater police presence and the ouster of the precinct commander.
Three days later, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly visited the neighborhood and held an impromptu meeting with community leaders. The next day, the leaders reported a heavier police presence, including two mobile observation towers and three commander posts, and a chasidic blog reported that the commander, deputy Inspector Frank Vega of the 71st Precinct, was being transferred.
The report was denied by the NYPD’s top spokesman.
Crown Heights leaders on Tuesday also met with Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler to discuss their concerns.
The protests followed the attack on 16-year-old Alon Sherman early Friday morning, which left him unconscious. He was robbed of his bicycle and other possessions.
That attack was followed by another incident Sunday. Witnesses said three young black men threw rocks and shouted anti-Semitic slurs at Jewish pedestrians outside a synagogue on Eastern Parkway. Last week, a school bus full of children from a chasidic school was pelted with rocks thrown by an estimated 10 youths on President Street.
All this takes place against the backdrop of a police manhunt for assailants in the April 14 assault on a black college student in which the assailants are said to be volunteers in a chasidic patrol group. District Attorney Charles J. Hynes has convened an investigative grand jury to probe that incident, and police identified Yitzchak Shuhat, 25, an emergency medical technician, volunteer patrolman and former NYPD auxiliary officer, as someone wanted for questioning.
“This is creating outrage and disgust among the Jewish community,” said Yossie Stern, chairman of the Shmira Patrol, which was implicated by Hynes in the incident. “There have been close to 40 beatings [of Jews] in the past and not one single arrest. People are very angry at the police department and shocked that in the end, reaction to this one isolated incident tells the Jewish community that they are not acting fairly.”
Tensions are also reportedly building between Shmira and its rival, the Shomrim patrol group, from which it separated more than a decade ago. Anonymous bloggers continue to launch personal attacks against Stern and other members by name, accusing them of the halachic transgression of mesirah, turning a Jew over to secular authorities, in an unrelated incident last year.
During Kelly’s visit to Crown Heights Monday night he told chasidic leaders that the neighborhood is safer than it has been in 20 years. In a video posted on a Chabad Web site, Kelly is seen arguing that point with a local rabbi, Yosi Jacobson. In that argument Kelly seems to allude to Shmira, whose members were referred to by Hynes as “renegades” whose work is unsanctioned by the community and the police.
“We need calm heads, cool heads,” says Kelly in the footage. “We don’t want people irrationally causing problems.”
Black and Jewish elected officials and community leaders were to gather on Thursday to discuss obtaining funding to post more video surveillance equipment on streets where attacks have taken place , in order to help deter crime and identify culprits.
“We need to restore confidence and security on the streets,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents Crown Heights. “As an elected official I’m going to help restore that.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who does not represent Crown Heights, said Tuesday that he has spent many hours in the community to assess the situation because of his own concern and what he described as a “leadership vacuum” in the community. He says he was asked to get involved.
“One of the reasons the authorities get away with not doing their job is because [the community is] divided,” Hikind said, describing reports from crime victims that police lost paperwork related to their cases. “I was shocked to hear what I was hearing.’
Hikind said he believed Mayor Michael Bloomberg should visit the area. “It would improve so much the sense that someone cares,” said Hikind. The assemblyman, who recently formed an alliance of black and Jewish elected officials to address common concerns, said he would convene that group for Thursday’s press conference.
Following the meeting with Skyler on Tuesday, Hanina Sperlin, vice president of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, said, “They gave me a very good assurance that we are going to see a big difference. When I got home there were about 100 additional policemen. My only question is if they will still be there in a week.”
Sperlin said there were rumors in the community that Vega would be replaced, saying “He is a nice guy, I have a good relationship with him, but it’s time for new leadership.”
But Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the top NYPD spokesman, said on Tuesday that Vega “is the commanding officer of the precinct. Period.”
He did not respond to a request for permission to interview Vega.
Browne emphasized that overall crime in the 71st Precinct was down 12 percent so far this year compared to the same period last year. “That’s in all categories,” he said.
But Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, chairman of Community Board 9 in Crown Heights, said in reply: “Tell that to the people who are victims, who have had buckets of tar thrown at them and names shouted at them. Let them look at the statistics within the Jewish community and then say that in public and let’s see the reaction.
“At this rate every thug in town will be emboldened to attack because it seems these incidents are going on unabated.”

An editorial from the New York Daily News: Cool in Crown Heights

Alon Sherman, 16, was attacked and beaten while riding his bike early Friday morning in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Alon Sherman, 16, was attacked and beaten while riding his bike early Friday morning in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

The touchy, sometimes volatile relationships between black and Jewish residents of Brooklyn's Crown Heights have frayed, with members of each community blaming the other for violent attacks aimed at youngsters.

In January, a Jewish teenager needed stitches after being jumped by black youths shouting epithets. In April, a black college student got pepper-sprayed and clubbed by a man police say may be a member of a Jewish community patrol. And Friday, another Jewish teen was beaten and robbed by black perpetrators.

There have been no arrests, prompting complaints from black and Jewish residents, along with irresponsible accusations that police are shielding lawbreakers of one group at the expense of the other.

We've seen this movie before, and it can end badly. The 1991 riots that racked Crown Heights were preceded by ethnic grievances that city officials were slow to recognize and inept at easing. Fortunately, City Hall is not standing idly by this time.

Community affairs aides have been circulating to maintain communications among local leaders and neighborhood organizations. And the NYPD has responded aggressively, and evenhandedly, to every incident. But still, there are tensions.

Some critical messages must get through. First is that crimes, both basic felonies and hate crimes, should be treated as individual acts, representing the mind-set of the perpetrators only and not of a larger community.

As our colleague Errol Louis, who lives in Crown Heights, wrote on Sunday, "Where the conversation goes haywire is when people retreat into their tribal corners, seeing every crime as a skirmish in some larger ethnic war."

The second critical message is that the NYPD will come down hard on retaliation, should any occur. And the third message, perhaps the most important, is that all of Crown Heights shares the goal of reducing crime.

Like all of New York, the neighborhood is far safer than it used to be. Major crimes are down more than 75% since 1990 in the two police precincts that cover Crown Heights. But in one of those precincts, the 77th, the number of murders climbed from nine in 1998 to 15 in 2007, with the pace picking up further this year.

Recognizing the trend, the NYPD has assigned special anti-crime troops to the area. That is exactly what's needed, along with a concerted, cooperative push by all parties to assist in battling crime. While also taking to heart that something as simple as a smile and a greeting to one's neighbors can add small drops to the reservoir of goodwill.

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