A PLEA FOR RACIAL UNITY

In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a neighborhood with a long history of racial tension, a community leader with a track record of healing sets out to bridge the divide between black youths and Hasidic Jews.

For more information on the Crown Heights Youth Collective, click here.

Aired on January 22, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> AS THE CITY STRUGGLES WITH THE WORRYING SPIKE IN ANTI-SEMITIC HATE CRIMES, BLACK COMMUNITY LEADERS ARE RALLYING BEHIND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY AND SAYING MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO STOP THE HATE.

THE RECENT NO HATE NO FEAR MARCH ACROSS THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE DREW THOUSANDS OF NEW YORKERS FROM ALL BACKGROUNDS AND RELIGIONS AND IN BROOKLYN, WHICH HAS BECOME ONE OF THE EPICENTERS OF ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS, PASTORS AND RABBIS HAVE BEEN MEETING AND PRAYING TOGETHER TO FORGE A PATH FORWARD.

ACCORDING TO THE NYPD DATA, ANTI-SEMITIC HATE CRIMES WENT UP SOME 26% LAST YEAR COMPARED TO THE YEAR BEFORE.

THE NYPD HAS NOT RELEASED RECORDS ON SPECIFIC INCIDENTS BUT SEVERAL CASES, ACCORDING TO LOCAL REPORTS INVOLVED BLACK YOUTHS ATTACKING JEWS IN BROOKLYN'S CROWN HEIGHTS NEIGHBORHOODS.

THAT'S DISTRESSING TO MANY INCLUDING RICHARD GREENE, A LOCAL ACTIVIST WHO FOR 40 YEARS HAS BEEN WORKING TO BUILD BRIDGES BETWEEN BLACK AND JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE INFAMOUS CROWN HEIGHTS RIOT BACK IN 1991.

GREENE IS THE FOUNDER AND CEO OF THE CROWN HEIGHTS YOUTH COLLECTIVE WHICH RUNS A NUMBER OF OUTREACH PROGRAMS FOR AT-RISK YOUTH.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU FOR INVITING ME OVER.

I WANT TO GET TO SOME OF THE SPECIFICS ABOUT WHAT YOU'VE BEEN DOING, WHAT YOU THINK NEEDS TO BE DONE, BUT LET'S START BY SETTING THE STAGE WITH A BIGGER PICTURE, QUESTION, IF I CAN.

UM-HUM.

WE TALKED ABOUT 26% INCREASE IN THE LAST YEAR.

REPORTS WERE THAT THERE WERE AT LEAST 14 ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS ALONE OF 2019.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS DRIVING THIS SURGE, THIS RECENT SURGE OF ANTI-SEMITIC VIOLENCE?

WELL, THERE'S A NUMBER OF THINGS HAPPENING THERE.

ONE, THE FACT THAT THESE YOUNG PEOPLE GET A LOT OF THEIR INFORMATION FROM EACH OTHER THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA, AND SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS, IT SORT OF HAS A WAY OF SPREADING THROUGH THAT MEDIUM, AND THESE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NOT THEN MADE AWARE OF THE RELATIONSHIPS THAT WE'VE HAD IN THAT COMMUNITY, NOT ONLY THAT COMMUNITY BUT HISTORICAL RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN BLACKS AND JEWS THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY AND THAT'S SOMETHING I KEEP EMPHASIEMPHASIZING, THE SCHOOLS HAVE TO PICK UP, THE PARENTS, COMMUNITY PEOPLE HAVE TO PICK THAT UP, IT'S A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN US AND BEEN THERE HISTORICALLY.

LET ME JUMP BACK NOW, ABOUT 40-SOME YEARS, WHEN YOU STARTED YOUR ORGANIZATION, WHAT WAS IT THAT CAUSED YOU TO DO THAT AND WHAT WERE YOU HOPING TO DO WITH THE ORGANIZATION?

WELL, YOU KNOW, I GREW UP IN CROWN HEIGHTS.

I'VE BEEN IN CROWN HEIGHTS NOW SINCE THE DODGERS WERE GETTING READY TO LEAVE.

IT'S BEEN A WHILE.

BUT I HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO LIVE IN THAT COMMUNITY.

I WENT TO SCHOOL THERE FROM THE FIFTH GRADE ON, AND I COULD REMEMBER GROWING UP, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I DID ON SATURDAY WAS THEY WOULD LEAVE A COIN ON THE PLATE AND I WOULD GO INSIDE FOR THEM AND FLIP THE SWITCHES BECAUSE THE HASIDIC COMMUNITY COULDN'T LIGHT LIGHTS ON THE SABBATH.

I WAS ACROSS FROM 770, THE HEADQUARTERS, AND I HAD THAT RELATIONSHIP THROUGHOUT MY TIME, MY LITTLE ONES GREW UP THERE, BUT NOW YOU HAVE A NEW GENERATION OF THE 21st CENTURY CHILDREN THAT ARE COMING UP.

THEY HAVE NO CONNECTION TO SCHOOLS, I WHEN I WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL, RASNUS WAS AN INTEGRATED HIGH SCHOOL.

IT DOESN'T HAPPEN ANYMORE, SO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE, THEY HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING THEIR NEIGHBORS.

WHAT DO YOU THINK CREATES THAT DIVIDE?

AS YOU MENTIONED, HISTORICALLY, THERE WAS A BOND, A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BLACKS AND JEWS.

YOU HEARD HISTORIANS SAID EACH RECOGNIZE BOTH GROUPS WERE VIEWED AS OTHERS SO IT WAS HELPFUL TO BOND TOGETHER.

WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS NOW THAT THIS GENERATION, ESPECIALLY OF YOUTHS, DOESN'T UNDERSTAND THAT, AND LOOKS AT EACH OTHER AS AN OTHER, AN OTHER TO BE AVOIDED AND AS WE'RE SEEING, SOMETIMES TO BE ATTACKED.

UM-HUM.

WELL YOU UNDERSTAND THAT YOU MADE MENTION OF W.B.DUBOIS COMING INTO THE 20th CENTURY WITH BLACKS AND JEWS, FORMED AN ORGANIZATION CALLED NAACP, AND THAT ORGANIZATION WAS THERE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE SPEARHEAD OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

THAT ORGANIZATION WAS IN THE COURTS.

MANY OF THE JEWISH LAWYERS WHO WERE THERE TO DEFEND WHETHER IT WAS THE SCOTTSBOROUGH BOYS OR THE OTHER ISSUES AROUND, THERE WAS THAT RELATIONSHIP.

WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE AND TEACH THAT HISTORY AGAIN FULL FORCE.

SO THIS IS THE HISTORY THAT I SORT OF HOLD VERY SACRED, THAT IT HAS NOT BEEN TOLD NOW, AND AGAIN, WHAT THESE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE HEARING ARE THINGS THAT ARE PRETTY MUCH BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION, AND IT'S GOT TO BE A NEW, CROWN HEIGHTS 1991, AFTER THAT, WE HAD SO MANY PROGRAMS THAT WERE GOING UNDER FORMER DAVID DENKINS' ADMINISTRATION.

LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT THAT, TO GET TO THAT.

I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT 1991.

CROWN HEIGHTS RIOTS.

QUICK SYNOPSIS, A JEWISH RELIGIOUS OFFICIAL DRIVING A CAR ALONG WITH A GROUP, UNFORTUNATELY HITS AND KILLS A YOUNG BLACK CHILD.

SHORTLY THEREAFTER, THERE IS A ROSENBAUM 27-YEAR-OLD RABBIICAL STUDENT FROM AUSTRALIA IS TRACKED DOWN AND MURDERED BY A YOUNG GROUP OF BLACKS, MOST PEOPLE BELIEVED IT WAS IN RETALIATION FOR THE CAR ACCIDENT.

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE EXPLOSION THAT TOOK PLACE THEN, AND MAYBE MORE IMPORTANT, WHAT IT DROVE IN TERMS OF PROGRAMS AND APPROACHES TO TRY TO REMEDY WHATEVER THAT RIFT WAS BETWEEN BLACKS AND JEWS.

THE EXPLOSION, AS YOU WOULD SAY, THAT FIRST COUPLE OF DAYS WE HAD A LOT OF THINGS HAPPENING.

THE MAYOR CAME OUT.

WE MET ON THE CORNER WITH THE LEADERSHIP IN THE HASIDIC COMMUNITY, SOME OF THE YOUNG PEOPLE FROM BOTH SIDES, AND WE STARTED A PROGRAM RIGHT AWAY.

THE SCHOOL 167 WAS ON THE CORNER OF SCHENECTADY AND THE EASTERN BLOCK, WE USED THE SCHOOL AS A HEADQUARTERS SETTING, TO BRING YOUNG PEOPLE FROM BOTH COMMUNITIES TOGETHER.

IF YOU SAT THERE AND HEARD THE MISNOMER INFORMATION THAT THESE YOUNG PEOPLE HAD ABOUT EACH OTHER, AND WE STARTED THAT CONVERSATION GOING.

WE STARTED OUT OF THAT CAME THE STREET OUTREACH PROGRAM WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY AN EVENT THE MAYOR PUT TOGETHER, THE COUNCILMAN PUT IT TOGETHER, AND THEY WOULD GO OUT ON THE STREET, IF THE MOUNTAIN WON'T COME TO MOHAMMAD, MOHAMMAD HAS TO IF TO THE MOUNTAIN.

WE HAVE TO MEET THE YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE BLOCK THAT THEY HUNG OUT AND BRING THEM INFORMATION.

WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE INFORMATION THEY WOULD GET WOULD GIVE THEM AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THEIR JEWISH NEIGHBORS NOT AS BEFORE, TWO SHIPS PASSING EACH OTHER IN THE NIGHT, NOT PICKING EACH OTHER UP, NOT KNOWING WHO EACH EITHER IS.

THAT GENERATION NOW HAS GROWN UP.

THEY'RE PROBABLY GRANDPARENTS NOW.

SO WE HAVE TO NOW RETURN TO GET TO THAT YOUNG POPULATION.

AND YET THE OUTREACH, STREET OUTREACH WAS EFFECTIVE BACK THEN.

IT WAS SERIOUSLY EFFECTIVE.

NOW IT'S DIMINISHED.

IT'S THE NUMBER SAYING AT ONE POINT IN TIME YOU HAD 21 VANS.

21 VANS THEN.

HOW MANY NOW?

WE'RE DOWN TO ONE.

WHEN I GOT THAT ONE VAN THAT CAME FROM QUEENS, I THINK ANOTHER AGENCY, AND HE SAID THAT WOULD BE THE LAST ONE ON THE ROAD.

STREET OUTREACH DOES NOT THAT HAVE SAME MOMENTUM AS IT HAD BEFORE

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, IN OUR WORK, WHEN IT GETS, WHEN WE WIN, THEN IT SORT OF, IT'S NOT REALLY A WIN FOR US, IT'S A WIN FOR THE CITY IN GENERAL.

WE HAVE SOUTH CENTRAL L.A. NOT LONG AFTER CROWN HEIGHTS.

WE WERE ABLE TO HOLD.

WE HAD WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, WE WERE ABLE TO HOLD THESE COMMUNITIES, WE WERE ABLE TO TALK TO PEOPLE FROM OTHER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY, TO TALK ABOUT HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR COMMUNITIES FROM GOING TO WHERE WE WENT TO, AND THANK GOD, CROWN HEIGHTS WAS, WE'VE HAD INCIDENTS OUT THERE NOW SINCE THAT TIME, BUT WE WERE ABLE TO KEEP IT DOWN TO A MINIMUM, AND THAT IS WHAT I THINK THE VANS AND THE OTHER PROGRAMS THAT WERE ABLE TO DO WAS THERE.

I THINK WE HAVE THE GREAT OPPORTUNITY NOW TO KEEP THAT GOING.

I'M NOT SAYING AS I SAID AGAIN, 41 YEARS I'VE BEEN DOING THIS WORK.

41 YEARS IS A GOOD LENGTH OF TIME, YOU KNOW.

I TELL FOLKS I'M 71 YEARS OLD.

I JUST LOOK 70.

NOT A DAY OVER 69.

THANK YOU.

BUT I'M CONCERNED THAT MY GRANDS AND GREAT GRANDS TO PASS ON THIS INFORMATION.

THIS GREAT CITY OF OURS, WE ARE PLACED IN OUR CHOICES BETWEEN AMERICA AND THE WORLD, WE HAVE A GREAT OPPORTUNITY.

CROWN HEIGHTS IS A PLACE HALFWAY BETWEEN NEW YORK CITY AND UNITED STATES, TO PASS ON THIS INFORMATION, TO GROOM THE NEXT GENERATION.

WHAT DO YOU THINK WE NEED TO DO?

I'M GOING TO ASK YOU TWO SORT OF TWO CATEGORIES HERE.

ONE I'M GOING TO LUMP TOGETHER WHICH IS THE CITY AND THE SCHOOLS.

OH, YES.

AND THE OTHER, FAMILIES.

PARENTS.

WHAT DO WE NEED TO GET FROM BOTH OF THOSE ENTITIES SO THAT WE CAN GET YOUNG BLACKS TO SAY JEWS ARE NOT OUR ENEMIES.

WE DON'T NEED TO ATTACK THEM, TO HAVE THE JEWS SAY BLACKS ARE NOT OUR ENEMIES, GO BACK TO WORKING TOGETHER.

WHAT HAS TO BE DONE?

YOU MENTIONED THE FAMILIES ARE VERY IMPORTANT.

YOU HAVE TO GET YOUNG PEOPLE FORMULATED WHEN THEY WALK OUT THOSE DOORS BUT INSIDE THE SCHOOLS, AFTER CROWN HEIGHTS WE HAD THE SCHOOL BUILDINGS OPEN AT NIGHT FROM THE TIME AND THAT'S HOW I GREW UP IN THE SCHOOLS.

THE SCHOOL BUILDINGS HAVE TO BE OPEN, AND WE WERE ABLE TO DO SO MANY THINGS WITH THAT AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAM.

IT WASN'T JUST COMING IN AND THROW A BALL AROUND.

IT WAS A PROGRAM THAT YOU HAD COUNSELING, WE HAD JOB OPPORTUNITIES, OTHER THINGS, WE HAD INFORMATION WE PASSED ON TO THEM.

THAT HAS PRETTY MUCH BEEN DIMINISHED RIGHT NOW.

THE NUMBERS JUST ARE NOT THERE ANYMORE.

AND THE FAMILY, THE FAMILIES, MOTHERS AND FATHERS HAVE TO BE ABLE TO EDUCATE THE LITTLE ONES GROWING UP, BUT AGAIN OUR PARENTS IN THE MEANTIME ARE WORKING.

IT'S A KIND OF A TOUGH BALANCE TO BE A FAMILY.

THE FAMILY AS WELL AS -- SO THE COMMUNITY HAS TO BECOME THE FAMILY.

WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO -- THE CHURCHES HAVE TO BECOME THE FAMILY.

WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO HELP THESE FAMILIES ALONG WITH INFORMATION.

WE HAVE TO TAKE THESE YOUNG PEOPLE AND YOU KNOW, SAY LISTEN, BECAUSE I GET THE CALLS.

I HAVE THE GRANDMOTHER CALL ME, MENTION WHEN HER GRANDSON WAS IN SOME ISSUES THAT HAPPENED OUT ON THE STREET OF CROWN HEIGHTS AND NORMALLY, AN INCIDENT LIKE THAT WOULD BE A MATTER OF GOING, HELPING THEM OUT.

ONCE IT BECOMES, GRADUATES TO THAT LEVEL OF ANTI-SEMITISM, THAT 14-YEAR-OLD WILL BE TREATED AS AN ANTI-SEMITIC CRIME AND THAT'S ANOTHER PIECE WE HAVE TO EDUCATE THESE YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE STREET, AS I TOLD THERE'S NOTHING I CAN DO AT THIS POINT IN A NORMAL SCENARIO, NOT NOW.

IT'S IN THE HANDS OF A HATE CRIME UNIT, WHATEVER UNIT THAT HANDLES THAT.

GET THEM TO UNDERSTAND WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A SMALLER OFFENSE IN THE PAST, IT CAN NOW BE LIFE ALTERING.

ABSOLUTELY, ABSOLUTELY.

YOU'VE DONE WONDERFUL WORK.

THANK YOU, KINDLY.

FOR ALL THESE YEARS AND WE STILL NEED YOU TO CONTINUE TO DO THIS.

I'LL BE AROUND FOR A LITTLE WHILE.

WE WILL COUNT ON IT.

THANK YOU FOR SHARING WITH US.

WE LOOK FORWARD TO TALKING WITH YOU AGAIN.

TAKE CARE.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE YOUTH COLLECTIVE VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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