Excerpt From Forward’s Coverage of the Riots

Published August 17, 2011, issue of August 26, 2011.
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The marchers come up President from the corner of Utica Avenue — “the accident site,” as it has come to be known — where Gavin Cato was killed by the car from Rabbi Schneerson’s motorcade. They have just been listening to Al Sharpton and Sonny Carson — the Al Sharpton “of Tawana Brawley fame,” the Sonny Carson “who masterminded the Korean grocery boycott,” is the way they’re described by Chasidic observers.

The marchers carry a banner memorializing Gavin Cato and hold up handwritten signs: “Hitler didn’t do his job,” “This Isn’t Palestine — We Want Justice.”

Chasids stand and watch. The marchers taunt them, then move on. They move around the block to the front of the Lubavich shul, where they are separated from a crowd of Chasidic men by a phalanx of helmeted policemen.

Insults are hurled in both directions. Suddenly, a beer bottle flies from the ranks of the marchers. Stones follow. The Jews duck, stumble, back up. A bottle smashes in their midst. Stones thud and bounce around them. There is shouting and screaming: “Look at the police. Where are the police? What are they doing?”

The men and women in blue appear to be under strict orders not to fight back. The Jews are beside themselves. The rioters launch bottle after bottle, rock after rock. The traffic at the intersection is a mad blare of horns as all vehicles try at once to back their way out of danger. Some Jews scream at the blacks, some scream at the police, some stand and murmur prayers, some —surprisingly few — pick up the rocks that fall around them and hurl them back.

A man is taken away in an ambulance. Witnesses tell of a beard stained with blood. Some say he was stabbed, some say stoned, and there is some speculation that the damage was done with a beer bottle.

“And look at the policemen running away!” a man shrieks in fury.

But the rioters are running, too, moving on down Eastern Parkway, smashing street lights, stoning police cars, screaming: “Keep hiding Jews! We’ll get you on your Saturday!”

A man lingers behind, marching slowly. “The black Hitler has arose now,” he tells a group of Chasidic teenagers. “Hitler was our grandfather.”

A block further on, a small black girl appears on a bicycle and asks a lone white reporter who is following the riot: “You sure it’s safe for you to be out here, ’cause I’m sure it ain’t.”

Ambulances scream past. A pigeon wings overhead, and several people duck. Anything that flies is now presumed to be a projectile.

— FORWARD STAFF, August 30, 1991

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