Twenty years after the Crown Heights riots


For Lemrick Nelson, a key figure in the Crown Heights riot twenty years ago, life has changed — and changed again. But for the families of the victims and witnesses of the violence, the future was forever altered.


As if to emphasize this point, artist Jamel Shabazz recently shared his imagined family photos of Galvin Cato, the child whose death became the precipitating event of the riot, and yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum who was murdered during the ensuing violence. Despite their losses, Cato’s father and Rosenbaum’s brother appeared together recently in this segment by Channel 2 in NY.

Still, not every aspect of the riot has been forgiven. The Rev. Al Sharpton — whose tactics and verbal incitement in the wake of the riots were branded anti-Semitic by JTA in 1991– withdrew from a panel event following communal pressure and the objection of Rosenbaum’s brother

Columbia University journalism professor Ari Goldman recently wrote in The Jewish Week about his frustration with The New York Times’ framing of the violence. But how did the (officially) Jewish press react? Founder of The Forward’s English language paper Seth Lipsky offers this retrospective

JTA’s first report of the events did not appear until Thursday, after the third night of rioting. A cursory look shows that while a NY Times-published piece during the riot invoked the term "pogrom," JTA tended to characterize the violence as "anti-semitic" in nature, reserving the term pogrom for a first anniversary article

In chronological order, here are the first several JTA daily bulletin reports following the Crown Heights riot:

"Fatal Brooklyn Traffic Accident Sparks Widespread Racial Violence." Debra Nussbaum Cohen and Jackie Rothenberg. Jewish Telegraphic Agency 22 Aug 1991.

"Police Promise Greater Vigilance Against Unrest in Crown Heights." Jackie Rothenberg. Jewish Telegraphic Agency 23 Aug 1991.

"Crown Heights Remains Restive As Violence and Rioting Die Down." Debra Nussbaum Cohen. 27 Aug 1991.

"Riots Are over in Crown Heights, but Anti-jewish Violence Goes on." Debra Nussbaum Cohen. Jewish Telegraphic Agency 30 Aug 1991.

"Hatzolah Volunteer Says He Tried to Aid Child Struck in Accident." Stewart Ain The New York Jewish Week

"Behind the Headlines: Crown Heights a Sobering Reminder of Change in Black-jewish Relations." Jewish Telegraphic Agency 5 Sep 1991.

If you weren’t around or were you young to recall these events, try this 2002 article from The Village Voice, this recent piece in The New Yorker for starters, or the YouTube clip of a 1991 news broadcast below:

[Image courtesy of Skylight Gallery exhibition, Crown Heights Gold: Examining Race Relations and Healing in Crown Heights, Brooklyn During the 20 Years Since the 1991 Riot]

Recommended from JTA