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Crown Heights Peace Shattered Again; As Black Man is Beaten by Hasidim

The uneasy peace in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn has been shattered once again.

A Lubavitch yeshiva student has been charged with assaulting and violating the civil rights of a black homeless man, who was beaten by a group of Hasidim just after late Monday night behind the world headquarters of the Lubavitch movement.

The Lubavitch community and the police gave sharply different accounts of the incident.

According to Lubavitch reports, Ralph Nimmons, 25, was injured after he broke into the “kollel,” or graduate-level yeshiva. A group of about 20 young men confronted Nimmons as he left the building, but they said he resisted violently when they tried to hold him while waiting for the police to arrive.

Police, on the other hand, said they found nothing to indicate that Nimmons had been involved in a crime, and that he was behind the main building at 770 Eastern Parkway rummaging for discarded clothes at about midnight when he was confronted by a Lubavitch man.

Police said Moishe Katzman, 24, asked Nimmons what he was doing and told him he was going to hold him for the police. Within a few minutes, about 20 Hasidic men arrived and tried to restrain Nimmons.

In the ensuing struggle, the group hit Nimmons with a small baseball bat and possibly a two-way radio, and hurled racial insults at him. Police also recovered a black coat, black hat and a yarmulke at the site.

Katzman has been charged with violating the Federal Civil Rights Act, second- degree assault, which is a felony, possession of a weapon and aggravated harassment.

The incident has been classified as a bias crime because racial slurs were shouted at Nimmons, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a news conference. Kelly said the classification was based on statements taken from Nimmons and at least two witnesses.

More than 200 Lubavitchers protested the arrest outside the local police precinct Tuesday evening, calling it politically motivated, while dozens of cops in riot gear watched them warily from behind police barricades.

Nimmons, who has been convicted of robbery, criminal trespass and petty larceny six times in the last six years, was treated for a broken nose and head laceration, and received nine stitches at an area hospital.

Nimmons was most recently charged in May on charges of possession of stolen property, criminal trespass and possession of burglary tools, pleaded guilty and was paroled in October.

He is also known to use two aliases and two addresses.

Nimmons picked Katzman out of a police lineup Tuesday night.

But according to an account in New York Newsday, Sgt. David Groht said that he helped Nimmons, and said that all Nimmons “could tell us was that they were all hasids, beards, coats, hats.

Katzman’s wife, Chavi, reportedly told police that her husband returned home from the yeshiva at about 7 p.m. Monday and stayed home the rest of the night.

According to Rabbi Joseph Spielman, chairman of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, there have been a spate of robberies of several yeshivas and dormitories in the last seven weeks.

Nimmons “was seen but he always got away,” Spielman said. He said that on Monday, “Nimmons was in the building. He climbed in the window.”

When asked what he was doing there, according to Spielman, Nimmons said that he was “cleaning the building.”

According to a report in Newsday, Nimmons’ former mother-in-law said that she and her daughter do not want to be associated with Nimmons, and that he is not allowed in either of their homes.

“If they say he broke in and tried to rob them, he probably did,” said the woman, who did not want her name used. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”

New York City Mayor David Dinkins issued a statement Tuesday terming “intolerable” the “kind of behavior” by “a large group of men in Hasidic garb who struck” a young African-American man.”

“Any incident of this sort is repugnant,” said the mayor’s statement. “In this case it is even more troubling — the arms of the children of the Holocaust and the arms of the children of slavery should be interlinked in friendship and partnership, not flailing at one another in anger.”

The New York City regional office of the Anti-Defamation League denounced Dinkins’ statement as “premature.

“His statement implies the mayor accepts the version of the events given by the 25-year-old man. We do not know all the facts in this case; neither does the mayor,” said Pam Schafler, ADL New York Regional Board chair and Harriet Bogard, director of the regional office, in a statement.

CORRECTION: A Nov. 25 JTA story on storm damage to caravans housing new immigrants in Israel misidentified the country’s current housing minister. His name is Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

ADDENDUM: A story in Wednesday’s JTA Daily Dispatch on an interfaith call to action on the crises in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia listed a number of participating Jewish groups. The Council of Jewish Federations informs us that it has now endorsed the resolution and the Sabbath of prayer scheduled for this weekend.

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