But in April, Hynes told The Jewish Week: “You can’t have a group, whether it’s the Bloods, Crips or Shmira, acting like vigilantes.”
The prosecutor later tempered his remarks in a letter to the newspaper, explaining that he “didn’t intend to suggest that the Shmira were capable of the violence which is the signature of street thugs like the Bloods and the Crips.” However, the prosecutor said, when there’s a group “like Shmira, which may have been part of this unprovoked assault, I … intend to do everything possible to find out where the truth lies.”
In Crown Heights today, the truth depends on the speaker.
Members of the Shmira, which means “to watch” in Hebrew, are quick to show that they protect both blacks and Jews.
In early May, a Jewish man standing in front of the Lubavitcher headquarters was surrounded by four black men who confronted him, cutting his hand. The Shmira chased down the four and called police, according to Yossi Stern, Shmira’s director.
In another recent incident, Stern said, a young black woman leaving the subway was confronted by a knife-wielding man who forced her into an apartment building, where he tried to remove her clothing. Her screams were heard by a resident of the building — a Shmira member who pursued the assailant and called emergency dispatchers.
But NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said that the Shmira “does not cooperate with police like other community watch groups who are our eyes and ears.” He said the group has not supplied police officials with the names of its members, as do other such groups in the city.
Still, the current tensions do not even begin to approach 1991 levels.
Reported crimes in the precinct that includes Crown Heights have dropped steadily since then — 77 percent in the past 15 years.
And Green says community residents now have an outlet: Various groups like his formed after the riots to encourage common activities, from sports to the arts, while bridging differences to avert future clashes.
“Race relations are absolutely better than in the ’90s, when we were like two ships passing in the night, picking up each other’s radar,” said Green, 60, a Crown Heights resident and history professor at the City University of New York.
While the latest violence is creating unnerving flashbacks, it’s also bolstering the coalition that blacks and Jews forged after the riots.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, Jewish families hurried to prepare for the Sabbath, pushing along baby carriages while walking alongside black neighbors and shopping in the same stores.
Stern was driving through the neighborhood when suddenly, he stopped his car to greet a friend — Davis, who gave the Shmira official a big smile and told him that he was on his way “to pick up a Torah for myself.”
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