The beating of an innocent African-American man in Crown Heights has shed light on tensions that exist within the Jewish community as well as tensions with blacks who live alongside them.
Back in April, 2008 a 20 year-old black college student named Andrew Charles was walking along Albany Avenue in his Crown Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood when a man on a bicycle and a man behind the wheel of an SUV attacked him by spraying him with pepper spray mace and hitting him with a nightstick.
The two men beat Charles then sped away in an SUV. A witness got the plate and it turns out the vehicle was registered to Menachem Ezagui. A local man police say was an active member of the Shmira Civilian Patrol , an Orthodox Jewish community police group that operates in the Orthodox Jewish communities of Crown Heights.
Very quickly law enforcement officers suspected that Shmira members were involved in the beating but were frustrated by noncooperation by the members of the tight-knit community who were questioned.
When it was revealed that Andrew Charles was the son of an NYPD officer, the media spotlight on the story increased dramatically.
It raised the spectre of the tensions of the tragic deaths of 7 year-old Gavin Cato and 29 year-old Yankel Rosenbaum and the chaos of the Crown Heights Riots in 1991. It brought to light long-held allegations of unchecked use of excessive force by members of Shmira and a similar rival organization known as Shomrim, on minorities living in the surrounding neighborhoods.
A September 22, 2008 New York Post article written by Reuven Fenton reported that tensions (which go back years) between Shmira and Shomrim were so bad that NYPD officials were trying to mediate a settlement and bring both groups under the oversight of the NYPD.
Binyan Lifshits, a Shomrim spokesman rejects the NYPD oversight because they worry about non-Orthodox police responding to domestic situations between members of the Orthodox community.
Shomrim split with Shmira in the late 90's after the ejection of Shmira members allegedly involved with unspecified criminal activities.
The 38 year-old director of Shmira Yossi Stern, in the same Post piece, claims that Shmira's approximately 100 members really are there to protect the members of the entire Crown Heights community. Check out the Crown Heights Shmira Webpage for a taste of the kinds of things they claim to be doing.
What's interesting is that Shmira parols now seem to be venturing into African-American neighborhoods, sparking resentment from blacks who remember the anger and polarization of the Crown Heights Riots; as well as from NYPD members tired of mediating disputes with the two organizations they accuse of vigilante-like behavior.
Word is the beating of the son of an NYPD officer didn't sit well with New York's Finest either.
Lubavitcher Hasidim have been living in Crown Heights since the 1940's, I can understand their desire to protect the community, but their leaders need to do a better job of making sure the zeal for peace does not don the cloak of bigotry and prejudice.
Shmira in action!