by Andrea Karshan
Tensions are high in Crown Heights right now. Gentrification is pushing some African-American and Jewish residents out of the area. Local police officers fatally shot Saheed Vassell on April 4, 2018. And now, there has been a string of attacks against Jewish residents in Crown Heights.
Though there has always been a history of violent attacks against Jews in Crown Heights, attacks against Jews in the last month, which seem to be motived by hate and anger over gentrification, have been coming one after another. Three attacks occurring in under three weeks. The attacks occurred on April 13th, April 21st and May 1st.
Rabbi Eli Cohen, Executive Director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council (CHJCC), said that we had a series of attacks that took place over a short amount of time that didn’t seem to be related in any way. The fact that they came in proximity one to the other definitely raised some concern.
“Generally, Crown Heights is a very safe neighborhood. In general, New York is the safest large city in America. Things are very different than they were in the 70s,80s and 90s in the community. We had very high crime in the community. Lately, we have seen record lows in crime, which is good. In that context though we cannot be complacent. We (the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council) thought it was very important that we should have a broad spectrum of people coming out first of all making the statement that this kind of violence is not acceptable in this community. And to give support and encouragement to the law enforcement community and make sure it was properly investigated and prosecuted.
I have not heard of major worry, people feeling unsafe. Obviously, you have to take the regular precautions. You have to make sure you know where you are going out at night. That you are properly aware of your surroundings. The streets are full. Most people have not changed their habits after what happened. I just think we need to keep our eyes and ears open. We have security patrols that are out at night, who are the eyes and ears of the police department. If anyone does see a group of people gathering or someone feels threatens they should right away call the patrols before it escalates to the level where it needs a 911 call. The police are always available. But if sometimes someone feels a little insecure, but it is not at the level where you need to call the police for it, the patrols are out at night and ready to assist,” said Rabbi Cohen.
Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, Program Director of Operation Survival, said when it comes to safety, Jews should do the same thing as everyone else is doing.
“They stay alert be aware of surroundings, be vigilant and if you see something say something. Regarding how to stay safe, it doesn’t make a difference if you are Jewish or not the strategies are the same. I feel very strongly that people should walk the streets and not be afraid and not hide away in fear. The police are doing a great job. They have caught several people who have committed these crimes. Though I don’t have first-hand knowledge of all these attacks the victims were all Jewish and nothing was stolen. This is leading many people to believe that these are crimes of hate are motivated by anti-Semitism. I think the tenant associations need to denounce these attacks and state what is obvious to all of us that gentrification is about economics and not race. Because there are those who are pedaling a false reality that one group is being treated differently than other people and I believe this is contributing to the recent spikes in anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Behrman.
Ayanna Prescod, President of Our BK Social, said that Crown Heights residents have worked tirelessly to reconcile the relationship between Jews and blacks in the neighborhood.
“We have dispelled the stigma that we cannot live peacefully together and it’s only in a continued sense of community that we’ll be successful. Community means protecting your neighbor no matter what race, color, gender or religion,” said Prescod.
Pastor Stephen Stallard, Pastor of Mosaic Brooklyn, said he is deeply angered over the recent rash of anti-Semitic assaults in our community.
“This grieves me in light of our past. I am aware of the fact that Christians have not always lived up to Jesus’ lofty ideals regarding how we are to love our Jewish neighbors. This was especially true during that horrific period we call the Holocaust. Yet even as we repent, we cannot change the past. All we can do now is work to produce a flourishing society that safeguards all of our neighbors. This means that Christians in Crown Heights should safeguard the lives and reputations of our Jewish neighbors. We must resist anti-Semitic speech and actions as inherently unchristian. At the church I am privileged to pastor we often teach about the concept of the imago dei, the image of God. Since we think that every human being is made in God’s image we believe that every single one of our neighbors should be accorded dignity and respect. Let’s pray for the peace of Crown Heights. And let’s look out for our neighbors. All of them,” said Pastor Stallard.
Longtime Crown Heights resident Miriam Rubinoff, whose photography was featured in the Crown Heights History Project, said of course it concerns her when violent incidents happen in or near her neighborhood, especially when it appears that people were targeted because they were Jews.
“The weather is getting warmer and with it come memories of the infamous Crown Heights riots in 1991. I was living here then, and it was a time that nobody whose life is invested in this neighborhood wants to see happen again, regardless of race or religion.
We definitely need a strong and visible police presence on all our streets all the time, not only directly following an incident. And we need concerned citizens working together with police and community leaders to make sure police response is measured and appropriate. Perhaps those individuals and organizations that were mobilized to unite the community in 1991 can play a part in stabilizing the situation now. Also sorely needed is a resource citizens can turn to with concerns or complaints to avoid involving the police unless absolutely necessary, “said Rubinoff.
Senator Jesse Hamilton, New York State Senator for NY Senate District 20, released three statements on the recent attacks against Jews in Crown Heights.
In his first statement on April 23rd, the Senator said that as a community, we must stand united in speaking out against these hateful, anti-Semitic crimes.
“These attacks are an assault on decency and an assault on our values; they are crimes that are especially cruel for violating the sanctity of a time for worship, peace, and reflection. When an attacker aims to divide and isolate us from one another, then it is even more important to speak out together, to unite and say everyone in our community deserves safe streets, dignity, and respect. It is important to stand with and support the victims of these crimes, to let them know you are not alone. I urge any member of the public who can aid police as they investigate these crimes to come forward. Our streets should be safe for every member of our diverse community and I join in upholding our true values,” said Senator Hamilton.
The Crown Heights Tenant Union was contacted by phone and email for a statement for this article. They have not given a statement yet. If and when they do, this article will be updated with their statement.
Photo of 770 by Shmuli Photo.