Restoring Harmony in Brooklyn
Young people seen as key to helping smooth tense relations between blacks and Hasidic Jews
THOUGH young people took a lead role in much of the violence that erupted last week in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, they are also viewed as the key to restoring harmony there."They ARE the solution," insists New York City Youth Services Commissioner Richard Murphy who has spent the last several days working with a citywide alliance of young people to develop an agenda for action that includes the priority concerns of Crown Heights teens. Relations between blacks - about 90 percent of the neighborhood's population - and the Hasidic community have long been tense. Jews complain of too much crime and too little protection. Blacks say Jews get preferential treatment. Today marks the funeral in Crown Heights of the seven-year-old black child killed one week ago by an out-of-control car driven by a Hasid. A grand jury investigation is underway, but some black leaders insist they will make a citizens arrest of the driver if officials do not. Though the timing and exact circumstances are in dispute, a private Jewish ambulance service apparently whisked the car's passengers away from a hostile crowd on police orders before the boy and his injured cousin were removed from the scene. The incident, followed by a steady stream of rumors, sparked several nights of violence. Later that evening a Jewish student from Australia who had no connection with the accident was stabbed to death. Stores were looted, windows broken, and cars overturned. Rocks, bottles, and obscenities were hurled. Mayor David Dinkins, who had waged his election campaign on his strength as a conciliator, dodged the physical objects but could not escape the jeers. Some 99 police were injured. More than 100 people, mos tly young blacks, were arrested. For the moment, a massive police presence of as many as 2,000 officers has restored an uneasy calm, kept even during a Sabbath day march by blacks led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Both the diverse black community, which includes a wide economic and linguistic mix, and the well-organized but insular Hasidic community tend to see themselves as victims. "Neither is willing to concede much of anything because each sees itself as the historically aggrieved party," comments sociologist Philip Kasinitz, a visiting scholar at New York University's Urban Research Center. "Both see the police and city establishment as siding with the other group." Crown Heights is also one of the few areas in the city where blacks and Jews live together and where the Jewish community is actually growing, says Harriet Bogard, director of the New York regional office of the Anti-Defamation League. Reasons include the fact that Crown Heights is the world headquarters of the Lubavitcher Hasidic community and that Jewish residents in the area tend to have large families. They make frequent offers to buy big homes, often owned by blacks. That probably contributes to a perception, says Ms. Bogard, that blacks are being pushed out and that Hasids get the best in housing, community services, and police protection. Yet she cautions that what blacks see as special police treatment is a courtesy offered many religious groups. "People don't understand that this is not just a cultural thing," she says. We The People Block Association president Barbara Taylor, who lives on the edge of Crown Heights, says she has been urging black teens to stay out of the troubled area. "They listen," she says. She has been to several meetings of concerned citizens who want to restore peace to the neighborhood. To get it, she says, "rowdy" outside agitators must go and police must become more sensitive to the needs of all residents. Mayor Dinkins and Police Commissioner Lee Brown spent several hours last week hearing similar complaints about uneven police treatment from black teens in a Crown Heights public school. Kim McGillicuddy, director of Youth Force, a group which trains young people in community organizing, says she thinks such discussions and stepped-up teen efforts to organize may yet produce lasting benefits from the recent violence. She says the focus of concern has shifted constructively - away from the view that "the Hasids control everything" toward finding ways to increase services for blacks all over the city who share many of the same problems.