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Brooklyn Pols Under Fire After Protests Against Police

Two Orthodox politicians in Brooklyn are embroiled in a growing controversy over their claims that the police were responsible for a riot last week in the Hasidic enclave of Boro Park and that a top officer had used an anti-Jewish epithet.

Council member Simcha Felder and State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, both Democrats, voiced their allegations in the days following the April 4 disturbance, in which hundreds of Hasidim took to the streets to protest the arrest of an elderly man after he was pulled over for talking on his cell phone while driving. Hikind blamed aggressive police tactics for escalating the situation; Felder alleged that the NYPD’s chief of department, Joseph Esposito, referred to the rioters as “f—-ing Jews.”

The department issued a statement denying that Esposito uttered any slurs during the incident, but acknowledged that he had used profanity. In recent days, however, it was Hikind and Felder who found themselves coming under criticism for claims of exaggerating charges of inappropriate police behavior and deflecting responsibility for the incident from neighborhood residents.

Jason Margolis, president of the Jewish police officers association, NYPD Shomrim Society, published an opinion article in the New York Post decrying as “fabrications” and “slander” claims that the police acted like Nazis, or that Esposito yelled, “Get the f—-ing Jews out of here!” during the melee. Margolis, while not referring to Felder and Hikind by name, called efforts to “justify the outrageous behavior” of the community “despicable.”

Shomrim honored Esposito in October for his commitment to New York’s Jewish community.

Speaking April 5, the day after the riot, Hikind decried what he perceived to be heavy-handed police tactics. “This is not the Intifadah in Ramallah in the Middle East,” the assemblyman said. In a conversation with the Forward this week he stood by his assertion that the police overreacted, telling the story of a 90-year-old man who was hospitalized after being knocked down during the fracas. But, Hikind also said, “there was no excuse in the world for how some in the community acted.” His constituents in Boro Park, he added, are largely “embarrassed and shocked” by the incident.

“The whole idea is to learn from our mistakes, and that applies to all sides,” Hikind said.

Felder declined to comment for this article.

The incident began when local residents gathered on the streets of Boro Park to protest what they perceived as heavy-handed tactics during the arrest of Arthur Schick, a 75-year-old Orthodox Jew. Ignoring police orders to disperse, the crowd of largely Hasidic youth began lighting bonfires in the street and chanting, “No justice, no peace.”

Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, the City University of New York’s Professor Samuel Heilman seized on the chant — traditionally associated with the black civil rights movement — as evidence of the growing awareness to the outside world of a community that often prides itself on its isolationism. “These Orthodox Jews have learned how a beleaguered and threatened minority in this city can respond when it wants to rein in the police or the powerful,” Heilman wrote.

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