Friday, August 19, 2011

Rant #563: Hatred's 20th Anniversary

This is the 20th anniversary of one of New York City's darkest days, and since it made international headlines, one of the worst days in the history of this country.

In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, rioting erupted after Gavin Cato, a seven-year-old black kid, was run over by a driver from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Lubavitch community. After striking the boy, the motorcade stopped, the driver checking out what he had done. He was beaten by an angry mob. (I was corrected on this point by someone who regularly checks out this blog.)

A few hours later, once word spread in the community that the child had been killed, there was rioting in the black community, and a group of black teens attacked--and one fatally stabbed--rabbinical student Yankel Rosenbaum.

The mayor at the time, David Dinkins--New York City's first and still only black mayor--did not read the situation correctly, and fewer than needed police were there to stop the rioting and bloodshed, and this mess was often cited as leading to Dinkins' political downfall.

The Rev. Al Sharpton rose to prominence during this incident, and was one of the main rabble rousers, fanning the flames of hatred in this community while at the same time becoming a national figure.

Crown Heights had already been something of an explosion waiting to happen prior to this incident. With boombox-carrying black kids walking on the same streets with ultra-Orthodox Jews, the two communities basically eyed each other as the enemy, and this incident put everything into perspective.

Now, 20 years later, the incident has, reportedly, served to make the community somewhat closer, although there are still rumblings that haven't died down.

Programs were started almost immediately after this incident to get the two communities together in ways that would not interfere with their own ways of life. I remember news reports that basketball leagues were set up where Orthodox kids could actually mingle, for probably the first time, with black kids living in the same area.

There were also numerous groups set up for adults to begin a dialogue of healing.

The dialogue started, and an uneasy truce was drawn up, which pretty much exists to this day.

However, 20 years ago, that incident divided the city, destroyed the political career of the city's mayor, and took a bite out of the Big Apple that it took years to just partially repair.

Although unnecessary deaths like these are despicable acts, perhaps the legacies of Cato and Rosenbaum have made these communities understand that if they are living in the same neighborhood, they don't necessarily need to like each other, but they need to get along.

Rabble rousers aside, it appears as if each side has learned its lesson.

But there remain hard feelings, especially when it comes to Sharpton. Norman Rosenbaum, Yankel's brother, has decried Sharpton's participation in a panel discussion of the incident and on relations between blacks and Jews which is being held at a Long Island synagogue. Rosenbaum said that it was insulting that Sharpton participate in such a forum since he showed such a lack of sensitivity 20 years ago.

Sharpton subsequently bowed out of the forum. Although defending his actions in Crown Heights, Sharpton acknowledged that "his language and tone has been questioned and at times has been over the line ... . Clearly, the Al Sharpton of 2011 is not the Al Sharpton of 1991."

And there are still some hard feelings about those involved in the deaths and the riots, and the way the legal system has handled these cases.

I guess the real lesson to be learned here is to never forget Crown Heights, because there might be another Crown Heights just around the corner.

You never know.

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