A new form of urban terror — the “knockout game,” in which one teen in a roving gang suddenly lunges at an unsuspecting pedestrian, often knocking the victim unconscious with a single punch to the face — has come to Crown Heights. The trend mimics such attacks elsewhere in the country.
There have been eight attacks reported to Crown Heights police in recent weeks, and in each case, according to police, an African American male has targeted a Lubavitcher chasid. No arrests have been made in the attacks.
NYPD Assistant Chief Owen Monaghan said the department’s crimes unit is investigating the assaults, and Monaghan promised at a community meeting this week increased police presence in the area.
The attacks, however, mimic “knockout” assaults in several other cities — St. Louis, Hoboken, N.J., Syracuse, N.Y., among others — where the victims have not been visibly Jewish. Seven people have died in the attacks, which sometimes have escalated into more than one assailant assaulting the victim.
Local Jewish leaders say that there have been other anti-Semitic incidents and “knockouts” that have not been reported to police.
These “knockout” attacks are not muggings — nothing is asked or taken from the victim. But the assaults seems to be for the fun of it, judging by the laughter seen on surveillance cameras here and in other cities, and in interviews with teens on local television.
The meeting Tuesday at a Crown Heights yeshiva brought together close to 70 black and Jewish leaders and police, and ended with calls for “dialogue” and “education.” Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Borough Park, said at the meeting, “education” is fine — “I’m all for teaching kids,” but “arrests” would be “even more effective. … Stuff like this can’t go on. It’s just not acceptable.”
Chanina Sperlin, executive vice president of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, told the meeting, “For us to walk down Kingston Avenue, or Brooklyn Avenue, or Eastern Parkway [and be attacked] because our kid has a yarmulke or hat on his head, because he’s Jewish,” and then get hit “in the face, or in the back of the head — that is a hate crime. We’re not going to stand for any of that garbage. We need our [public school] teachers and principals to explain to [their students] that this is not going to be tolerated.” Several black public school educators at the meeting were sympathetic.
After the meeting, Sperlin said that aside from the “knockout” attacks there have been “a lot of [anti-Jewish] racism over the last several months. A woman was walking down Brooklyn Avenue was told, ‘If you don’t cross the street I’m going to stab you.’
“Just yesterday,” Nov. 18, Sperlin continued, “a kid is walking to yeshiva … someone threw a bag at him, with coffee inside. This is beginning to happen on a daily basis.”
Laurie Cumbo, councilwoman-elect from Crown Heights, who is African American, told the breakfast, “I can imagine the young people playing games like knockout are not aware of the Crown Heights riot [or] the race tensions that existed. … I think it’s very important to bring together our youth [blacks and chasidim], as much as we can, so they don’t continue to live in divided communities, or see the ‘other’ as the unknown, with the fear that comes when people don’t really know each other.”
Cumbo added, “We have to send a very strong message that this kind of behavior is not tolerated in this community, or any other community and there are repercussions and ramifications. … At the same time, we don’t want to ruin the lives of young people who are too young to understand, and partially we haven’t done enough education to explain to them why this behavior is inappropriate and not tolerated.”
Scott Stringer, the comptroller-elect, told the group, “We have to stop this before it becomes a tragedy that’s on the front page of the tabloids.”