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Police Promise Greater Vigilance Against Unrest in Crown Heights

August 23, 1991
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Police officers in the strife-torn Crown Heights section of Brooklyn will pursue a more aggressive approach to arresting those responsible for acts of violence and vandalism, Mario Selvaggi, chief of patrol for the New York Police Department, said Thursday.

Selvaggi, while stressing that no changes in policy were being made, said that the police presence would be significantly increased and that officers would exercise heightened vigilance.

The promised changes heartened members of the Jewish community in Crown Heights, where racial tension between blacks and Jews has flared into violence for the last three days.

The unrest was set off by a traffic accident Monday, in which a car driven by a Hasidic man struck and killed a 7-year-old black child. Gangs of black youths began rampaging through the neighborhood and, three hours later, Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year-old Hasidic scholar from Australia, was killed in retaliation.

At a news conference in Crown Heights on Thursday, called by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, memorial candles were lit and prayers said for both Gavin Cato, the young accident victim, and Rosenbaum.

JCRC President Kenneth Bialkin said that while “the time to talk is coming, the time to act is now.”

He said Jewish community leaders are counting on the police and Mayor David Dinkins to restore calm on the streets of Crown Heights. But if racial tensions continue, they said, the National Guard should be put on alert.


Dinkins, who held a brief news conference later Thursday with Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden, said there is no need for the National Guard to respond.

“Our police department is quite capable of handling this situation,” he said.

Throughout the week, representatives of Jewish organizations have expressed the view that there is a great injustice in the way Jews are being treated as a result of the accident that took the life of young Gavin Cato.

While the organizations have stressed the tragic element in both the child’s death and Rosenbaum’s, they have also made pointed distinctions between the accidental death of the child and the intentional murder of the Hasidic scholar.

“To equate the two is to invite the complete disintegration of civilized existence in our city,” the American Jewish Congress said in a statement.

One concern of the Jewish community was addressed Thursday when, according to Sgt. Edgar DeLeon of the police department’s Bias Incident Investigation Unit, police officially gave the murder of Rosenbaum a “bias log number,” meaning the case is being investigated as a bias crime.

In addition, DeLeon said, all assaults and complaints in the area that took place after the accident are being investigated as bias incidents.

Rabbi Shea Hecht, chairman of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, said most blacks in Crown Heights support the Hasidim and many had come by to express shame for the actions of some of their fellow blacks. “With tears in their eyes, they came and said, ‘Please don’t judge us that way,’ ” he said.

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