Four violent attacks against chasidic men on the streets of Crown Heights in less than a month have community leaders scrambling to piece together the reasons for the assaults and implementing programs aimed at preventing them.
And the rash of attacks has prompted the chair of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus to draft legislation to probe the problem in a more systematic way.
In the most recent attacks, which happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 30, the NYPD arrested three men on hate crime charges connected to two back-to-back attacks.
In one attack, which took place shortly after 1 a.m. on President Street near Albany Avenue, a surveillance camera shows three young black men knocking over a chasidic man and then punching and kicking him as he lay on the ground. The 51-year-old victim was taken to the hospital and treated for minor injuries.
A second attack took place a few minutes earlier a half-block away. Mendel Super, a 22-year-old yeshiva student from Australia, told the New York Post: “They didn’t say anything at all. … Next thing I know, I was on the floor — my yarmulke and glasses in the gutter somewhere.”
Neither of the victims was robbed.
Three men were arraigned on hate crime charges on Feb. 1. Police identified them as Nazar Walters, 18, Teshon Bannister, 21, and Joshua Peters, 20.
The attacks follow two previous assaults: On Jan. 12, a 19-year-old chasidic man was punched in the face and knocked to the ground by a teenager on Empire Boulevard near Schenectady Avenue; and on Jan. 16, a Jewish man in his 20s was punched in the chest so hard he nearly fell over as he walked on Kingston Avenue near Montgomery Street at about 8 a.m., according to collive.com.
There were also several incidents in late January in which victims were shoved by an apparently mentally ill man.
Unlike the “knockout attacks” in 2013 in which young assailants punched random men as part of a gang ritual, there doesn’t seem to be a motive connecting the current assaults.
“If you remember that a couple of years ago, there were a series of incidents. There was a pattern that went back to gang initiation,” said David Pollock, associate executive director and director of public policy and Jewish security at the Jewish Community Relations Council. This time, he said, “No one has been able to find such a pattern, and not for lack of trying.
“Authorities,” he added, “are not able to connect the dots, and only by connecting the dots can these attacks be eliminated.”
Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Center, agreed. “It’s hard to understand if there is anything driving them, but it seems like just a little too much just to be totally random,” he said.
Like Pollock, Rabbi Cohen said it’s essential to try to get to the root cause of the attacks. “If there’s anything that’s driving it … a negative conversation that’s going on … among the young people, we want to be aware of it and we want to try to address it.”
He added: “We’re talking now with a couple of groups about going into the public schools and talking to the young people about what they’re experiencing.”
Midwood Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who chairs the Council’s Jewish Caucus, is drafting legislation aimed at finding the root cause of hate crimes. The legislation would require that the city’s district attorneys report the motives behind all hate crimes they prosecute. “Once we understand what those motives are, then we could try to get to the root of the problem,” said Deutsch. For example, he said, if the root cause of some hate crimes is mental illness, then the city could direct more funding to mental health resources for that neighborhood.
On Jan. 24, the City Council approved two bills aimed at reducing hate crimes. One, sponsored by Councilman Mark Levine, will require the city to create an office for the prevention of hate crimes. The city already has similar offices addressing such issues as domestic violence, the film industry, and immigrant affairs. The second bill, sponsored by Deutsch, will require the new hate crimes office to conduct educational outreach and trainings as part of its mission.
A lot of anti-Semitic crimes in the city involve swastika graffiti, Deutsch said, but “a lot of times, it’s just the person doesn’t know the meaning of it. … They know it’s an insult, but they don’t know how hurtful it is and what the impact will be on the community. … So, we’re hoping that more understanding will bring more tolerance.”
Levine said the new office will “position us to really allocate adequate resources” to combatting hate crimes. “In talking to advocates,” he said, “it feels like the education and prevention angle undeniably needs additional resources added to it.” The mayor will choose the new office’s head and staff.
Levine noted that although a lot of attention has been on anti-Semitic crimes lately, the office would address all hate crimes, and LGBTQ advocates pushed hard for the bill’s passage.
Rabbi Cohen, Pollock, Deutsch and Levine all praised the attention police have given to the spate of attacks.
“We’re encouraged that there has been a strong police response,” Rabbi Cohen said. “They’ve put in a number of extra patrol cars on every shift,” he said, and those arrested are being held on a “very high” bail and are being “vigorously prosecuted.”
“There’s been a strong investigative effort,” he said.
Barry Sugar, president of the Crown Heights-based Jewish Leadership Council, is less satisfied. “We have a problem and it is not being addressed with the full weight and resources of law enforcement,” he said.
The attacks, he said, are making community members fearful. “People are concerned [about safety] after dark. People are mindful if they want to allow their kid to go to an after-school program.”
Anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise in the city. There were 189 anti-Semitic crimes in 2018, up from 154 in 2017. This year, as of Jan. 28, there have been 20 cases of anti-Semitic crime compared to 13 cases in the same period for 2018, according to the NYPD.