New York City Councilwoman-elect Laurie Cumbo apologized Tuesday for a statement last week which appeared to blame Jews for a recent spate of knockout attacks, after a spiral of condemnations and national talk show discussions brought the issue to the fore.
Jewish community leaders were quick to accept the gesture of contrition, announcing their willingness to forget her comments and work as “one community” with Cumbo, an African-American who will represent Crown Heights in the council from Jan. 1.
Cumbo set off a firestorm last week when she said, in a broader statement condemning the knockouts, that during her primary campaign earlier this year, she heard from many blacks that “the accomplishments of the Jewish community trigger feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.”
The vast majority of incidents in Brooklyn involved black teens attacking Jews, particularly in Crown Heights. At least a dozen attacks were reported in the area since September. In several incidents, the victim was punched seemingly at random while walking past a group of young men as part of a street game called “knockout.”
In what Crown Heights Shomrim believe was the latest such attack, a 15-year-old boy was approached threateningly on Monday by a group of five black teens on Union St., between Kingston and Albany Avenues.
The boy, a son of Rabbi Menachem Gerlitzky, the gabbai of 770, Lubavitch headquarters, said that his son was walking home from yeshivah in the afternoon, when he noticed the teenagers gathered on the corner of his block.
“As he was walking,” Rabbi Gerlitzky told Hamodia, “one of them started coming closer to him, a smirk on his face. Realizing what was about to happen, my son broke into a run and ran home.”
Shomrim encouraged the boy to file a report, which he did on Monday night. But police say that since he was not physically assaulted there was nothing they could do.
The knockout attacks have since spread to Flatbush and Williamsburg, with police debating whether it was a senseless game played by minorities or an urban myth.
In a statement, Cumbo said that her intention was to draw the two communities closer by bringing out the feelings of some black constituents, who have lived in tense proximity with the Jewish community for decades.
“I sincerely apologize to all of my constituents for any pain that I have caused by what I wrote,” said Cumbo, 35. “It was the opposite of my intention. I have taken the last week to reflect, evaluate and meet with Jewish, African American and Caribbean leaders all across New York City, and I understand now that my words did not convey what was in my heart, which is a profound desire to bring our diverse communities closer together.”
Rabbi Chanina Sperlin of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council said he was “heartened” by Cumbo’s apology, adding that he was looking forward “to closing this chapter and working together with Laurie toward a promising and productive relationship.”
Yaacov Behrman of the Jewish Future Alliance commended Cumbo “for doing the right thing and apologizing. We look forward to working together in the future as one community.”
Included with Cumbo’s statement were quotes from two Jewish councilmen, David Greenfield and Brad Lander, who say they accepted her apology.
“Laurie Cumbo is a bridge-builder,” Lander said. “Sometimes, our bridges need a little repair work, or we take steps that don’t reflect our best intentions.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who reached out to Cumbo shortly after she initially condemned the knockout assaults, said in a separate statement that he “applaud[s] her remarks. Having gotten to know Laurie over the past week, I feel she will be a great asset to Crown Heights and the city of New York.”