Crown Heights Official: Fear Level Resembling August 1991 Level


A “widespread” view in the local African-American community that Jews are taking advantage of them has led to a level of fear in Crown Heights’s Jewish community that is coming to rival the tensions preceding the riots 27 years ago, a local activist told Hamodia.

Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, who heads the Jewish Future Alliance and leads the community’s drug-prevention program, said Tuesday that the two attacks a week apart from each other may be heralding a new era in black-Jewish relations.

“There hasn’t been this much fear since August of 1991,” said Rabbi Behrman, who recalled his sister hiding in a closet during those three fear-filled days as African-American youths rampaged through the streets of Crown Heights, resulting in the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, Hy”d.

He noted that the Girgenti report — the official state report on the Crown Heights riots — shows many similarities to the current situation, when in both incidents a black person set upon a Jew for no reason.

“You see there,” he said, referring to the report released by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1993, “that there were a lot of rumors being spread — that the Jews got special treatment, that Hatzolah wouldn’t treat Gavin Cato, that there’s a special police car for the Jewish community, that one group in society is basically being treated better than another group in society. It was a much more extreme case then, but that was the rumor being spread by the leadership and by the media.”

“Today,” he added, “it is not as extreme, but you have a similar circumstance where there are people claiming that one group in society is not being treated the same as another group.”

Cato is the 7-year-old black child whose accidental vehicular death set off the riots in 1991.

“There is a view being peddled in the streets that gentrification is targeting one segment of the population and that the Jews are immune or even benefiting from it,” said Rabbi Behrman. “They think that when somebody is suffering and he’s given someone he can target — it may have contributed to some of the anti-Semitism because of the view being peddled by the tenant associations and some of the leadership in the progressive community.”

“This view is both untrue and anti-Semitic,” asserted Rabbi Behrman, who is a member of the local community board. “But I hear it often at community board meetings — mostly from attendees. It is widespread.”

He said that police are aware that people are scared and have increased patrols.

“I can’t answer for this specific case — the police are investigating,” he said. “But I have been concerned about this erupting into violence for over a year and I brought these concerns to the attention of our elected [officials].”

Since 1991, he says, the local Jewish and black communities have invested much time and effort to work better together in a tense neighborhood. But in recent years, the tenant associations and advocacy groups have declined to speak out against the anti-Semitic view that Jews are responsible for their misfortune.

“There is a saying that if partners have to look at their contract, the partnership is over,” Rabbi Behrman said. “It’s very frightening. People can’t afford to pay their rent. People are having trouble putting food on the table. Others are facing eviction because of poverty. And they’re being given somebody to hate and somebody to blame. It’s very scary and it’s dangerous.”

“It’s dangerous times, I think,” he said. “I hope nothing happens, but I fear that we’re heading into dangerous times.”

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