Borough Park community leaders are calling for a full investigation of the incident Tuesday night that led hundreds of people to block 16th Avenue, scuffling with police and lighting fires.
The situation deteriorated rapidly after an elderly man from a prominent Orthodox family, Arthur Schick, was arrested in a traffic stop.
In the course of the evening hundreds of people mobbed the streets, with police helicopters hovering above and cops in riot gear lining the sidewalks. Besides Schick, two others were arrested. Two police officers were reported injured.
In a news conference Wednesday morning, two elected officials denounced as "inexcusable" the conduct of the mostly young people who jammed the streets. Councilman Simcha Felder called them "hooligans" who should be "prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
But the leaders also said the police response to the disturbance further inflamed the situation.
In the most serious allegation, witnesses said they heard the city’s No. 2 cop, Chief of Department Joe Esposito, address the crowd with profanity and called for "heads to roll." Felder told reporters the comments included "Get the f-ing Jews out of here."
Felder said Esposito called him later and explained that it was "a strategy" to impress upon the crowd the seriousness of the situation.
"It’s one thing for young people to behave this way, which is inexcusable, but not for New York’s Finest," Assemblyman Dov Hikind said. "It was out of control. This is a tragedy for the community and the city."
Felder insisted that the altercation, which went on for four hours, beginning at about 6:30 p.m., could have been avoided had officials left the situation to the local precinct commanders, who knew how to deal with local organizations and leaders to defuse tensions.
"One Police Plaza should have stayed at One Police Plaza," he said, referring to police headquarters in Manhattan.
Felder said he had met early Wednesday morning with Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey to discuss the incident, but at press time Mayor Michael Bloomberg had yet to address the matter. Felder also said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had apologized for the way the incident was handled.
The trouble began when cops arrested Schick, 75, alleging that he was talking on his cell phone while driving and failed to obey instructions. Witnesses said he was roughed up by cops when he got out of the car and, hard of hearing, may not have been able to hear their instructions. The cops said he failed to get out of the way as they were trying to answer a radio call and was later confrontational.
Schick was charged with obstructing governmental administration and was released on a desk appearance ticket.
Schick is the brother of Marvin Schick, a commentator on Jewish affairs and president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Staten Island. The family’s baked goods business is well known in the kosher world.
Hikind said he had visited a 90-year-old man at Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park who allegedly was pushed to the sidewalk by cops.
"This was not handled properly," Hikind said.
Requests for comment from the Police Department were not immediately answered Wednesday.
A city official, who declined to be identified because he does not speak for the NYPD, said such mass altercations had happened in Borough Park in the past, particularly in 1999 following the police shooting of Gidone Busch.The official said this incident may have further escalated because of the unusually large number of youths present in the streets in the days before Passover.
"Kids who go to yeshiva out of town are home for the entire month," he said.