Beating Highlights Orthodox Split With Police

Community Seething Over Videotaped Incident in Crown Heights

Unprovoked: Jewish leaders are demanding answers about the caught-on-tape police beating of a man inside a youth center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
crownheights.info
Unprovoked: Jewish leaders are demanding answers about the caught-on-tape police beating of a man inside a youth center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

By Seth Berkman

Published October 18, 2012.
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In the silent video, which was posted on Jewish websites on October 14, police are seen pummeling a barechested young man, Ehud Halevy, on the night of October 8 after he resisted an attempt to handcuff and arrest him at the Aliya Institute, a center for troubled youth in Crown Heights.

Institute officials said he was sleeping there that night with their permission, though it was a guard at the center who called the police in regarding Halevy for unclear reasons. The NYPD announced they are investigating whether excessive force was used.

Among local Jewish groups, the video generated debate over the effectiveness of the police department. Zaki Tamir, a member of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, said at the press conference, that “over the past few years, we’ve really had an opportunity to develop a relationship with the police and it’s really set us back.”

But Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, told the Forward that he viewed the incident “as more of an aberration… I don’t think it’s part of a larger problem.”

Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College who wrote “Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry,” said Orthodox Jews in neighborhoods like Crown Heights view the police as “kind of a bulwark against other minorities from making their lives more miserable.” Heilman said Orthodox communities have long respected the police and have emulated them through their own street patrols, groups they have come to hold in higher regard than actual law enforcement agencies.

In neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Boro Park, the Shomrim and Shmira are two community patrols that Orthodox residents regularly call before they call NYPD. When 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky went missing in July 2011, the first calls were made to the Shomrim. The police were not notified until more than two hours later. Kletzky was later found slain.

According to Ben Hirsch, a spokesman for Survivors for Justice, for years the NYPD has also had little direct knowledge of sexual abuse allegations in the Orthodox community. Hirsch, whose group advocates against child sexual abuse in the community, said: “Generally allegations are reported to rabbis first and the rabbi tells the accuser: ‘We’ll deal with it. Don’t report this to the authorities until we give you permission to do so,’ at which point it gets covered up. It’s very rare that allegations reach law enforcement once reported to a rabbi.”

For their part, the community patrols describe their relations with the NYPD as mutually beneficial. In October, the lead story on Crown Heights’s Shmira website had the headline “Shmira’s partnership with the Police Department keeps bearing fruits!” [sic] after the two coordinated the arrest of cell phone robbers.

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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