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New York City (NYC)
Crown Heights, Brooklyn Riot - 1991

Crown Heights Riots
Photo Credit: New York Daily News

On the evening of August 9, 1991, in a predominantly African-American section of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a car veered into the sidewalk, killing a seven year old African-American boy named Angela Cato, and injuring his cousin. Several hours later, an Australian Hassidic Jew named Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered by a gang of African American teenage boys. These events sparked racial tensions between the Jewish and African-American community of Crown Heights. Little is known of what exactly transpired on the scene of the car accident. Rumors were circulating about how the incident was handled by volunteer Jewish ambulance company, Hatzolah. According to several witnesses, medical staff treated the injured Jewish driver prior to attending the children. The City’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) also arrived at the scene and several different explanations were given by eyewitnesses. Some indicated that the NYC ambulance told Hatzolah employees that they would take care of the children. Others accused a hostile crowd of threatening to attack EMT workers of the Hatzolah ambulance.

The rioters, whose slogan was “no justice, no peace,” were angered by rumors of discrimination by the Jewish ambulance and the escape of the driver responsible for killing Mr. Cato. The riot was further incited by the Reverend Al Sharpton, and at certain points included anti-sematic protests. In one example, a group of rioters displayed anti-sematic banners, including one that said “Hitler did not do the job.” Throughout the three day riot, many violent mobs assaulted and looted innocent bystanders and businesses, causing devastation throughout the community. Bottles, bricks and stones were constantly being hurled at Jews, media reporters and even the mayor himself as he visited the Crown Heights community. David Dinkins, the African-American mayor of NYC at the time, was highly criticized for his slow response throughout the violent outbreak that took place during the three days of rioting. Both the African-American and Jewish communities agreed that if Mayor Dinkins had dispatched police riot control troops early on that less damage and violence would have taken place.

To date, the Jewish driver who killed Mr. Cato has not been indicted and was found to have fled to Israel. Meanwhile, the teenage boy who killed Mr. Rosenbaum, on the other hand, was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following the riots, tensions between the Jewish and African-American community of Crown Heights were intensified, and sometimes even blown out of proportions by the media. Since the event, many attempts to corporate have been made by both sides. However, there was a consensus among both communities that the City’s response to the event had been inadequate. By the time the next mayoral election came around, a Republican candidate named Rudy Giuliani, quickly become a favorite among many groups. He Promised to be ‘tough on crime’ and as a result, won the mayoral election with a majority vote.