Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tension in Crown Heights? Not What You Think

There have been a lot of stories about tension in Crown Heights. It is most commonly portrayed as racial tension between African Americans and Jews. The truth is in my opinion considerably more complex. The riots in 1991 were a major shock to everyone in Crown Heights. Since then there has been a shift in attitude. There is a greater sense of common purpose in the community, a greater effort at the grass roots level to show understanding and respect. Such a peace needs to be flexible. Jews realise that one negative encounter with an African American does not speak for the whole African American community. This understanding is undoubtedly reciprocated.
The relationship of the Jewish community with the police has on the other hand has never been reexamined since the 1991 riots. Many in the community have vivid memories of cops standing like tin soldiers as rioters attacked Jewish people and property. A friend of mine started chasing some rioters who had pelted his father with stones and bottles, severing an artery. The same police who stood by during the attack threatened him with arrest if he continued pursuit.
Rioters who smashed my windows acted with the same impunity, calmly walking away from our broken windows as though they were on a Sunday stroll.
The periodic saturation of uniformed police does absolutely nothing to change the behavior of police in the 71st precinct. There is a perception that crimes against Jews never get a bias classification. When a Jew is accused in an altercation with an African American, bias seems to be presumed. Crime reports are routinely lost. The rudeness of civilian employees of the Police Department is legendary. I know of a case where a masked assailant attempted to drag a Jewish girl off an elevator at about six in the evening, after school. She was interrogated by two male detectives who told her nothing could be done since the assailant was wearing a ski mask. She was questioned as though she were a suspect. Perhaps interviews with victims need to be videotaped.They told her and her mother that it would be a waste of time to file a report since they couldn't do anything anyhow. Such incidents create a hardened distrust in the Jewish community of the Police
The position of law enforcement is highly respected in the Jewish community. There is awareness of the daily danger faced by police officers. Despite this, there is a distrust of the police, and a feeling that justice is political. Now that a respected member of our community is the subject of an international manhunt(see link at bottom of page), the cynicism has reached critical levels. David Dinkins made a miscalculation that the 1991 riots would be forgotten before the 1993 mayoral elections. The Crown Heights riots turned out to be a decisive factor in a narrow Giuliani victory. The same antipathy exists towards District Attorney Hynes as existed towards David Dinkins.
The reason that civilian patrols exist in Crown Heights is the amply warranted perception that crimes which elicit indignation from a normal person are greeted with bland indifference by police. In many cases this attitude seems to be motivated by political interference in law enforcement. Monitoring of unofficial police blogs by concerned civilians indicates instances of bias in police ranks that should be addressed.
The massive police presence that was mobilised in response to recent tensions will soon be phased out. We will be left with the police in the 71st precinct. Nothing has happened to lessen tensions between the police and the Jewish community. The feeling that crime reports are being discouraged to tweak the crime statistics is pervasive. The endemic rudeness of civilian police employees continues unchanged. The perception is almost universal that the application of bias statutes is so politicised as to be meaningless..
Meanwhile, all Brooklynites of whatever ethnicity live in fear under the jurisdiction of a District Attorney with the lowest conviction rate in the state. Police know that the suspects they lock up stand a better than 60% chance of walking. But now Hynes basks in the light of publicity as he grandstands on the phony issue of bias. Soon, we will get annoying leaflets telling us what a dynamic D.A. Hynes has been. Then as now, we will be rolling our eyes in disgust. We didn't forget '91 and we won't forget '08.
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