NEW YORK (May. 27)
An agreement by Black and Hasidic groups in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, NY, to patrol their neighborhood together appears for now to have resolved the years of conflict over a Jewish patrol that has been operating under the aegis of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council and funded by the Chabad Lubavitch movement, whose world headquarters are located there.
The Hasidic patrol, which Black residents of the neighborhood claim to be a “vigilante group,” has been one of the factors of the exacerbated tensions in the area between the two groups.
The Blacks have charged the Jewish patrol with stopping Blacks indiscriminately on the streets and asking them for identification.
The two groups agreed at a meeting at City Hall last Friday to operate a joint patrol of the neighborhood — long marked by a spiralling crime rate — sponsored by the local police precinct. The precinct had been urging the Hasidim to sign up with the official police-sponsored anti-crime citizen patrols, which maintain radio contact with the police. About 10 Lubavitchers have been cooperating all along with the police in its efforts at an integrated neighborhood watch group.
A meeting was scheduled for Wednesday with representatives of the two groups and top police officials to discuss recruitment and training for the patrols.
BLACK LEADER EXPRESSES HOPE
At Friday’s meeting, a Black neighborhood leader, the Rev. Heron Sam, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Crown Heights, voiced optimism about the new patrol. He urged “an end to any kind of partisan patrols that exist in that community.” Sam said that if both sides held to the agreement, “I think we have a chance of success.”
However, according to Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, the neighborhood has a long history of integrated patrols.
Rosenfeld told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Crown Heights had a Jewish-initiated, integrated patrol in the 1950′s, known as The Maccabees. It was “the first civilian patrol in the country,” Rosenfeld claimed. On Shabbat, patrols were handled by Black residents, Rosenfeld said.
The patrols were licensed to be armed, were uniformed, but were let go “because of economics,” said Rosenfeld.
Over the years, he continued, “the patrol took on different forms. In the latter years–1975 to present — it became all Jewish as Blacks dropped out. The Jewish Community Council hired a private detective agency, DKD, which was integrated — Blacks, Asiatics, Hispanics and Jews.”
JEWS EXPECTED TO COOPERATE
Rosenfeld said the Jewish community claims that if integration of the police patrols will defuse the tension, “We’re going to ask the Jewish community to join the patrol in larger numbers.” Commenting on charges of racism by the Hasidic patrols, Rosenfeld said: “We don’t know if this is true or false, because it was never an official policy to stop people. But we have issued orders that no member of the patrol stop people, and we have told people that anyone doing it will be thrown off the patrol.”
However, Rosenfeld said that in the event an actual crime is witnessed, “the patrol has to assess what to do. If you see someone in danger, you’re allowed to stop a person and hold him for the police. This is a citizen’s arrest.”
Rosenfeld spoke of a serious crime problem in Crown Heights, in which “everybody’s home, car, business or shul has been broken into.” He said the Jewish community is particularly vulnerable on Saturdays, when homes are burgled while people are worshipping at the synagogue.
“You can’t judge us. You have to understand, if you see so much crime, you can’t blame a patrol for stopping people. The patrol doesn’t initiate actions, like Black-baiting. Their job is to protect,” Rosenfeld said.
INTERROGATION SAID TO BE ILLEGAL
A spokesperson for the community affairs division of the 71st Police Precinct in Brooklyn told JTA that interrogation of specific individuals is absolutely prohibited, as it infringes on an individual’s civil rights. The civilian patrols exist for their “mere visibility,” the spokesperson said, reporting incidents to police.
Rosenfeld said that “the story that there is so much tension is just not true. We get so many calls from Black people who say, ‘Rabbi, don’t think that all of us think this way,’” he claimed. He added that many Blacks have asked for meetings with him. “They say that the people who claim to speak for them are not the real leadership,” he explained.
The Crown Heights Jewish Community Council was established in 1966 as a small delegate agency to the Crown Heights Community Corp., whose purpose was to serve the Black community. The corporation lost its funding several years ago, Rosenfeld said, and the Jewish Community Council, once in existence solely to serve Yiddish-and Russian-speaking people, has enlarged its scope to serve the whole community.