Reacting to a spurt of anti-Semitic attacks by an African-American youth gang on Jews, Crown Heights’s incoming councilwoman is urging the two communities to refresh their relationship so that the attacks don’t harden biases for future generations and destroy the fragile gains of the past two decades.
Laurie Cumbo, a former chair of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum who won Councilwoman Letitia James’s seat in last week’s election, said she watched a video of an alleged attack and was hesitant to call these attacks hate crimes without more information.
However, she was firm that a strong message must be sent that the violence cannot go on.
“You want to cut this down where it’s existing right now,” Cumbo told Hamodia on Thursday. “You don’t want to have this become a trend or to gain any popularity or to grow any legs. You certainly want to make sure that you send a very strong message that in these communities this type of behavior is not tolerated.”
Crown Heights’s Jewish residents are increasingly nervous as an escalation in racial violence has enveloped the neighborhood since September, including three incidents in the past week.
Another attack came late Wednesday afternoon when two Jewish children were stoned by a passing gang of black and Hispanic youths in front of their yeshivah on Rutland Road and Brooklyn Avenue. One nine-year-old was hit in the head near the eye. The child’s father complained to police, who referred the matter to their Hate Crimes Task Force.
Police are said to have several strong leads in the case and are taking it seriously. They suspect that there is a single gang in a specific Crown Heights public school that conceived of a sick game called “knockout,” in which members go around punching Jews.
Jewish–black relations reached a nadir during the Crown Heights riots 22 years ago. While efforts by leaders of both communities have produced considerable strides in rapprochement, the large number of unemployed youths who hang out has made for a tense relationship.
Cumbo says that she wants to use her office, which she will enter on Jan. 1, to bring the communities back together and analyze how to prevent youths from becoming violent in the first place.
“I want to get to the bottom of why these particular young people feel that this type of behavior is acceptable. Why do they feel that this is a viable option for them at this time?” she said.
“The way I feel about this is, the conversation continues to be developed around how do we better police a community, or communities of color in particular, that are very challenged in terms of educational opportunities, as far as job opportunities, as far as family support, as far as economic support, and in an era of lawlessness in terms of not understanding their own value and their own worth.
“How do you change that dynamic so we’re not constantly talking about how to better police a community in that situation?”
A young African-American woman, Cumbo’s Democratic primary win in September made her a shoo-in for last week’s election. She is seen as a rising star in the council, where she could be for the next decade.
Cumbo called the transition period an “exciting” time, selecting a staff and office and getting up to date on the issues. Along with the election of her mentor, James, as the city’s next public advocate, and Bill de Blasio as mayor, she says she is “really looking forward to an opportunity to lead the city in a new way.”
She says that the attacks, which she calls “incidents,” cast a pall on her inaugural period.
“As a new council member,” she says, “this is really one of the last things that you want to see … people being attacked in this way.”
Cumbo, who was a young girl during the Crown Heights riots, noted that anyone below 35 would not remember the trauma wrought by those days of violence. She suggested joint meetings between the two communities on the civic, religious and official levels.
“It’s time for a renewal in the relationship,” she said.