Jewish leaders’ reaction to a video of New York police beating a young man resisting arrest recently in an Orthodox-sponsored center highlighted a complex reality about the community’s relations with law enforcement.
For many, the police are seen as a crucial source of protection from threatening neighbors, but also as a force whose conduct when acting within the community can often be a source of concern.
“We have so many issues here that need to be addressed, and the New York Police Department ignores our pleas for assistance, for cooperation, for understanding, for compassion,” Barry Sugar, founder of the Brooklyn based Jewish Leadership Council, told a press conference October 15, one day after the video was posted.
Sugar’s organization aptly exemplifies the two-edged nature of the Orthodox community’s stance toward New York’s finest. While aggressive in pushing the NYPD to better protect Orthodox Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council has strongly protested several cases in which the police have gone after Orthodox Jews for alleged wrongdoing. In 2008, when the police arrested Yitzhak Shuchat for allegedly beating Andrew Charles, the son of a black police officer, on the streets of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, Sugar’s group denounced the NYPD’s actions as “outrageous if not illegal.” Subsequently, when Shuchat fled to Israel after being charged, the group condemned the extradition request filed with Israel by District Attorney Charles Hynes as “a gross miscarriage of justice.”
At the press conference, State Assembly member Dov Hikind said he was a “great supporter of the New York Police Department” but termed the behavior of the two officers involved in the arrest depicted on the video “unconscionable.” “There has been a breakdown between the Jewish community in Crown Heights and the 71st precinct,” Hikind said. “Things are not good between the precinct and its commander in being responsive to the community in Crown Heights, and that needs to change as of today.”
In November 2011, Hikind also wrote a letter to the Israeli Minister of Justice to block the extradition of Shuchat, claiming that the local authorities had wrongly targeted the Crown Heights resident. Hikind went on to say that since the 1991 Crown Heights riots, when police failed to protect the community from attacks by others, including some from the neighboring black community, there had been a “relative, harmonious co-existence and mutual respect between the African-American and Jewish communities,” in large part due to the NYPD.