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Behind the Headlines Trying to Cool It in Crown Heights

The Hasid,###itsis hanging at his side, and the young man, a Black, clad in a bright blue gym suit, could be seen gesturing and talking to each other as they faced the maroon store front. A closer look revealed they were reading a flier which portrayed a Hasidic Jew beating up a young Black.The flier charged the Crown Heights Community Patrol, a civilian anti-crime patrol sponsored by the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, with harassing Blacks and said: “Are we willing to be put into a Concentration Camp without raising our voices?” Across the street, at this seemingly innocuous corner of Troy Avenue and Montgomery Street, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, stood the solitary telephone booth where, on June 4, 17-year-old yeshiva student Abraham Goldman was stabbed to death.

There is an air of tension in the tree-shaded Crown Heights area. And the damage to stores in this area during the power blackout July 13-14 is, perhaps, not entirely unrelated to the simmering feelings of suspicion and distrust between the Hasidic and Black communities here. Crown Heights, the center for the Lubavitcher Hasidim, is now about 60 percent Black and 35 percent Hasidic.

Since the Goldman murder, the Jewish community has been tense and angry. The Jewish crime prevention patrol has intensified its duties. According to the Jewish Community Council, these duties are to protect both the Jewish and Black residents of the area by serving as a deterrent to crime. But according to many Blacks, the patrol has taken the law into its own hands by harassing and assaulting Blacks. To the Black community, the patrol is little more than a “vigilante” group not in the least concerned with the welfare of Blacks. These feelings culminated in the July 9 demonstration by about 500 Blacks to protest the alleged actions of the patrol.

THE BLACK POINT OF VIEW

In random interviews with Jews and Blacks in Crown Heights, many Black residents told the JTA they thought the patrol was a good idea, but that some of its members occasionally abused their power Some Blacks said the patrol should not exist, but if it had to exist it should also include Blacks.

Taylor Hamp, a Crown Heights resident for 20 years, said he was recently “pulled” from his car while sitting in a no-parking zone by members of the patrol. He said he decided not to press charges because of what he termed the political power possessed by the Hasidic community. “They have the officers under their thumb,” he said. Hamp said the existence of the patrol had created a “tenser” atmosphere. “The idea is great but not the methods,” he said.

Bernard and Larry, two young men who attended the July 9 demonstration, thought the patrol “looks pretty good but was kind of unfair.” Larry said he had been approached by patrol members and “hassled. Verbal harassment is the key issue.” Bath complained that patrol members were “limiting themselves” by not protecting everyone in Crown Heights. Bernard said that if someone was being robbed just outside the precinct where they were being interviewed, the patrol “wouldn’t get involved. If the patrol protected everyone, we would have a lot more community cooperation.” At a recent press conference, members of the Hasidic community would not say how extensive an area their patrol covers.

PATROL ACTIVITY PRAISED

However, Scholom Gansburg, a Crown Heights resident, said the patrol was “necessary” and that it was doing a “fair job.” A few months ago Gansburg said he was held up by Blacks and the patrol appeared immediately, caught his assailants and took him to the hospital.

The patrol is “necessary” because” people are aware that the area is not being protected,” said a rabbi who would not identify himself but was present at the press conference. He said that the July 9 demonstration was “purely political,” involving “people who were running for something.” People were “imported” to attend the demonstration, the rabbi said. Classes at Medgar Evers College in the Crown Heights area were “interrupted” and people were told to attend the rally, according to the rabbi.

Yudal Zalmenson, a worker at the Crown Cuisine restaurant, said he disagreed with charges that the patrol was a terrorizing influence. He said it “takes guts” to belong to the patrol. An employee of a local fish market praised the patrol for “protecting young girls,” while Leon Blesofsky, a cantor, said it was a “wonderful thing.” The police are good, “but they can’t be at every corner,” Blesofsky added.

During the blackout, Utica Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Crown Heights, was severely looted and damaged. However, Kingston Avenue, an other thoroughfare, was virtually untouched. Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, a spokesman for the Lubavitcher Hasidim, attributed this to the fact that the patrol is centered in the Kingston area. He said: ” It was a tremendous thing (the patrol). There is no question in my mind it was a deterrent” to the looting.

TRYING TO GET TOGETHER

The Blacks readily accept the claims of various fliers, posted and distributed to Blacks in the area, which accuse the Hasidim of harassing them, although few Blacks say they themselves have seen such incidents. The Jews deny any such actions asserting that in instances where the patrol members may have acted too forcefully, it was only in self-defense.

The Crown Heights Community Council announced two weeks ago that it wanted to meet with Black leaders to resolve the tensions, and said that Blacks have been invited to join the patrol. However, the process is slow, said Rabbi Mendel Shemtov, chairman of the Council. The Council is trying to find responsible Black leaders to help design a framework by which Blacks could join the patrol, Shemtov told the JTA, but added that they are having a problem finding them.

A rather talkative man Known as Hanks said that having Blacks join the patrol was a good idea. According to Hamp, “A lot would like to join who are concerned with the community and want to share the responsibility. People on blocks will form their own groups if they don’t work some thing out.”

Gansburg said he found it “hard to comment” on whether or not Blacks should join the patrol. He said it is “hard to deal with people you are not close to and that it was hard to know who was (qualified) for the job.” Zalmanson opined: “Blacks might not think another Black person was doing anything wrong. There are differences between Jews and Blacks.”

Counter-charges of racism and latent anti Semitism have passed back and forth between the two communities in an effort to explain the current tensions. But the Hasid and the young Black man who were arguing over the truth of the flier taped to the window of “Kelly Candy Store,” see things otherwise.

PROBING THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

To 17-year-old Earl Arrington, the Hasidim are “alright neighbors.” He didn’t feel the current tense situation was caused by the Goldman murder. He said he was uncertain about the roots of the problem, but suspected it has something to do with the influx of Blacks and the lack of jobs.

Yisroel Akiva Bernstein, a young Hasid, said there is a bigger perspective to the problem which he believes is caused by the failure of Blacks and Jews to “follow God-given laws.” He chided Blacks for not following the universal seven Noachic laws, and criticized the Jews for not living up to their responsibility of leading a more moral life, as an example for all.

Vinson Jones, a burly Black man with specks of gray in his beard, came out of the candy store where he works and joined the conversation. “I haven’t found them (the Hasidim) to be bad neighbors,” Jones said, but added that the flier describing Jewish assaults on Blacks tells the whole story of the current tensions. Jones resents what he sees as a violent Jewish reaction to the Goldman killing. Although upset with the senseless killing, to Jones it was just another killing and he doesn’t under stand why the Jewish community is making such a “big stink” over it.

Jones senses an air of Jewish animosity towards Blacks and recalled a recent incident where Jews complained of loud music being played by Blacks at an outdoor barbeque. He said he did not think it was fair that the Blacks were being harassed by the Jews, particularly since three Hispanic youths were charged with the Goldman killing.

The City Human Rights Commission is attempting to mediate in Crown Heights, Michael Hemandez, its executive director, told the JTA. However, efforts to meet separately with the parties have yet to yield results.

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