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Crown Heights

September 9, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry

Part One

Twenty-five years ago, on August 19, 1991, Crown Heights experienced several days of what some Hassidic and some white leaders call
“a riot” and what some leaders call “a rebellion.” It involved people of African ancestry; the Hassidim, an ultra-orthodox wing of the Judaism; and, the police.

A quarter of a century later, there is still tension at the grassroots level, and some of the same problems still exist. Some independent Black leaders publicly complain that the Hassidim are increasing their power and authority and expanding their territory and still receiving preferential treatment. There is talk of progress by the old leadership with a couple of new faces. They point to marching together in the West Indian Day Parade, having picnics, and walking the streets in casual conversations. An African American columnist pointed to youthful Hassidim, saying, “Hey Bro, I like your Fedora,” as an indication of progress.
I am reminded of a quote from the 1940s. There was a discussion of whites and Blacks cooperating. The author said, “In white and Black’s cooperation, Blacks generally end up cooing and whites operating.” It may be applicable to Crown Heights. Blacks end up with cordialities, and the Hassidim owning and controlling. Blacks end up smiling, and the Hassidim end up conniving.
It is always the Hassidim’s side of the story that is told. I attended a press conference called by Borough President Eric Adams to express unity of all religions. It was the reaction to churches which had been set afire. The Jewish leaders who were there insisted upon making reference to the Crown Heights’ unrest – always posturing themselves as the innocent victims.

The issues, which we were raising since the late 1960s, I suspect are still present, in part or in whole. Consider the following facts:

I. A Shift in the Community Lines
In 1976, the Hassidim used their political muscle to have community lines changed for Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, from Atlantic Avenue, which was, at the time, a part of Crown Heights, to Eastern Parkway. The tactic reduced the number of Blacks in Crown Heights, while the Hassidim ‘s numbers remained the same, giving them greater opportunity to exert control and power.
I remember when several of us leaders stayed up all night with then Mayor Abraham Beame trying to persuade him not to change the lines. We were not successful.

II. Special Treatment from Law Enforcement
June 11, 1988: An edition of the Amsterdam News carried the headline, “Is the Police Afraid of Arresting Hassidic Jews in Brooklyn?” The reporter, Mr. J. Zamgba Browne, recorded the story of a15-year-old honor student named Yarvilah Fulcher, who was beaten by a 27-year-old Hassid named Avrahan Greenberg. After being given the run around by the police, the family never received their quest for justice. The police wouldn’t arrest Mr. Greenberg.

III. The Hasidim Violence
The Hasidim has a long history of attacking men, women, and youth. My first encounter was a meeting at my church on Pacific Street. The neighbors were complaining about Hasidim vigilantism. The most famous case was Victor Rhodes, a 16-year-old who was beaten by 30-50 Hassidim, according to the white press. As the Chair of the National Black United Front (NBUF), we decided to organize our own patrol. At a crowded meeting at Public School 167, I said, “When we organize our patrol, and men meet men, we will see what the people in the long Black coats will do.” The next day, the New York Post had me say, “We will get the Jews and the people in the long Black coats. ”

Obviously, for years, I denied the quote. Still, I was castigated, especially in Jewish circles until I wrote the book, “No Monopoly on Suffering: Blacks and Jews in Crown Heights (And Elsewhere) [Africa World Press], which should be a must read for everyone concerned with or connected to Crown Heights. We did organize our patrol and named it “Brooklyn’s Black Community Citizen Patrol.” We fitted our patrol with green jackets with small yellow and white stripes around the arms. The words, “Serve, Share, Protect,” were written in black lettering across the back, and an image of Arthur Miller was within an outline of a pyramid.

IV. Composition of Planning Community Board 9
There was a disproportionate representation of the Hasidim on Community Planning Board 9, which encompassed Crown Heights. Of the 200,000 community residents, somewhere between 10-20% are Hassidim, yet the Hassidim made up 25% of the Board. The Board’s Chairperson was Rabbi Jacob Goldstein.
Dr. Vernal Cave, a long-time resident of Crown Heights, complained about the violations in re-drawing the community district lines. He wrote higher officials of New York City, including the then Mayor Beame, about violation the civil rights of Black citizens of Crown Heights when forming districts for community boards in accordance with provisions for the New York State Charter as revised in 1975. It violated two of the three provisions that it was legally obliged to pay…”

… to be continued.