Crown Heights Jewish Leaders Appeal for Calm Following Stabbing of Yeshiva Student and Fatal Shooting of African-American Assailant
Leaders of the Jewish community in the volatile Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn are making strenuous efforts to avoid an escalation of racial tension following the stabbing of a young yeshiva student early this morning at the world headquarters of the Chabad movement.
The knife-wielding assailant, identified as Calvin Peters, a 50 year-old African-American man, was reported by some witnesses to have shouted “Kill the Jews!” One police officer said that Peters had in fact yelled “I will kill you all!”
After being confronted by police officers who arrived on the scene shortly after the attack began at 1.40 AM, Peters was shot in the stomach when he rebuffed repeated instructions to put his knife down. He later died at Kings County Hospital.
The victim of the stabbing, 22-year-old Levi Rosenblatt, a student from the town of Betar Illit in Israel who had been studying late into the night, is reported to be hospitalized in a stable condition.
Local Jewish leaders are urging calm in the aftermath of the incident.
“We are already reaching out – our main concern is just to get the right story out, to stop any rumors,” Rabbi Eli Cohen, who heads the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday morning.
Crown Heights has periodically experienced strife between its black and Jewish communities. Famously, in 1991, four days of rioting broke out in the neighborhood after a Chasidic motorist accidentally ran over two seven year-old black children. Later that same day, black youths viciously beat and stabbed an Australian yeshiva student, Yankel Rosenbaum, who later died of his injuries.
Tensions soared again in 2008, when a 16 year-old Jewish boy was badly beaten by a group of black teenagers. The following week, Jewish assailants attacked a 20 year-old black man.
Elaborating on today’s assault, Rabbi Cohen was careful to avoid identifying the incident as a hate crime. “Right now, it seems that this person was emotionally deranged; it clearly looks that way from the video,” Cohen said. “We’re waiting to hear from the police if they have any information as to motivation, background, and so on.”
Israeli radio correspondent Shlomi Reisel said eyewitnesses said that the attacker had first appeared at Chabad Headquarters, located at 770 Eastern Parkway, earlier in the evening.
“He asked for a Bible, but they drove him away,” Reisel said. He added that dozens of yeshiva students were present when Peters stabbed Rosenblatt in the neck. Peters then tried to stab other students, who shoved tables at him to keep him at bay.
Police arrived on the scene just over a minute later.
“Our neighborhood is a mixed neighborhood, and many years ago, there were riots in Crown Heights, but since then, status quo has been maintained,” local resident Israel Silberstrom said.
The New York Post reported John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counter terrorism, as saying that police believe the attack was an “isolated incident.”
“It appears to involve an individual who is known to the New York City Police Department,” Miller said. “(Peters) has a history of being an emotionally disturbed person and acting out in other places.”
Over the last week, New York has been riven by accusations of racism against the police department, after a grand jury in Staten Island elected not to indict the police officer who placed Eric Garner, a 43 year old African American, in a chokehold that contributed to his death shortly after. The Garner controversy came just a few days after riots broke out in Ferguson, Mo., following a separate grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.
Security in the neighborhood was heightened two weeks ago as Chabad held a major international convention. During the last few days, demonstrations protesting the Garner and Brown killings erupted in the neighborhood, leading some Chabad community members to express fear that today’s stabbing will result in the resumption of conflict between the black and Jewish communities.
Watch two video clips of the attack and its aftermath: