New York Police Department officers patrol as a crowd gathers for a Jewish religious celebration outside the headquarters of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch movement in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, last Friday. Seventeen years after race riots left the streets of Crown Heights bloodied, tensions are rising again in the neighborhood shared by about 15,000 Orthodox Jews and more than 130,000 blacks. (AP photo/Bebeto Matthews)
NEW YORK — Seventeen years after race riots left the streets of Crown Heights bloodied, tensions are rising again in the neighborhood restlessly shared by Orthodox Jews and blacks.
First, a black man was badly beaten on a Brooklyn street.
Weeks later, a Jewish teenager said he was attacked by two young blacks while riding his bicycle, and angry Jewish residents took to the streets with signs saying “Jewish blood is not cheap!” and “Every Jew a .22.”
And along the way, the district attorney accused an Orthodox Jewish street patrol of vigilantism and compared the group to street gangs like the Bloods and Crips.
The strife has revived painful memories of the 1991 riots in the neighborhood, which is home to about 15,000 Orthodox Jews and more than 130,000 blacks.
As summer approaches, leaders from both sides are braced for trouble.
“One small incident could escalate into something beyond our grasp,” warned Richard Green, head of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, a group he said inspires the races “to interact instead of react.”
The group was started after the 1991 riots that exploded after a black child was accidentally struck by a station wagon in the motorcade of a Jewish spiritual leader. The 7-year-old boy, who was pinned under the vehicle, later died of his injuries. In the ensuing unrest, which lasted three days, a rabbinical student was mortally stabbed by a black mob.
To quell fears of new unrest, New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Raymond Kelly visited Crown Heights earlier this month and stepped up police patrols. Officers are also perched atop a tower, keeping 24-hour watch over the world headquarters of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch movement.
In addition, two Jewish patrol groups claiming hundreds of volunteers cruise the streets by foot and car.
“It’s a very delicate situation in Crown Heights, a bubble of tension,” said Geoffrey Davis, a longtime black resident.
Queens borough District Attorney Charles Hynes has convened a grand jury to probe the April 14 assault on Andrew Charles, a 20-year-old son of an NYPD detective. He told police that a man on a bicycle sprayed him with mace while another man stepped out of an SUV, struck him with a wooden object and drove off.
Police have released a photograph of a 25-year-old member of the local street patrol group, the Shmira, who is wanted for questioning in what Hynes calls “an unprovoked attack.”
Police suspect the attack followed reports that black youths had pelted neighborhood homes with rocks. In May, residents say stones were hurled at a school bus carrying Jewish children.
Charles’ mother is accusing police of having “a double standard,” noting that they’ve made no arrest in her son’s case while two black teenagers were quickly charged with beating and robbing a Jewish 16-year-old riding his bicycle several weeks ago.
“My son’s suspect is still at large almost a month after he was brutally assaulted!” said Charles’ mother, Wendy Craigg.
The prosecutor’s office said it could not discuss the details of a case under investigation.(p2)