New York City (NYC)
Crown Heights, Brooklyn Riot - 1991
On the evening of August 19, 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 Gavin Cato, and injuring his cousin. Later, a Hasidic Jew named Yankel Rosenbaum visiting from Australia was stabbed by a gang of African- American teenage boys. He later died in the hospital, after doctors failed to observe one of his stab wounds. The mayor at the time, David Dinkins, had visited him at his bedside, when he appeared to be on the way to recovery. These events sparked racial tensions between the Jewish and African-American community of Crown Heights.
Little is known of what exactly transpired at 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 the child. The riot was further incited by the Reverend Al Sharpton, and at certain points included anti-Semitic protests. In one example, a group of rioters displayed anti-Semitic 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 widespread damages 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. Mayor Dinkins, the first black mayor in the city's history, was criticized for not ordering a larger police presence.
The Jewish driver who killed Gavin Cato was not indicted. The assailant, Lemrick Nelson, who stabbed Yankel Rosenbaum, was originally acquitted at trial, although after vociferous protests, the U.S. Justice Department, under President Clinton, brought civil rights charges against him. Lemrick Nelson eventually served a ten-year sentence.
Following the riots, tensions between the Jewish and African-American community of Crown Heights intensified although the media sometimes exaggerated what was happening. Since the riots, both sides made many attempts to cooperate. Both communities agreed that the City's response had been inadequate. By the time of the next mayoral election in 1993, the republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, running under the slogan "one city, one standard," promised to get 'tough on crime." He won a very close election and served as mayor of New York City from January 1, 1994 until December 31, 2001.
Visit Additional Major NYC Riots:
Draft Riots (1863) Harlem Race Riot (1943) Harlem Race Riot (1964) Stonewall Inn Riot (1969)
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