Jury to probe Crown Heights attack

Unarmed man beaten by 2 Jewish men; town meeting on matter next week.

crown heights 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
crown heights 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Brooklyn grand jury will probe the recent beating of an unarmed black man by two Jewish men in the borough's Crown Heights, the center of Chabad Lubavitch and a neighborhood with a long history of racial tension. The victim, 20-year-old college student Andrew Charles, was allegedly beaten on April 14, when a stare-down turned violent. Words were exchanged between Charles, a friend of his, and a group of Jews, when another allegedly hassidic man arrived on a bicycle and sprayed the two black men with mace. An SUV pulled up and, according to the victim and witnesses, two hassidic men stepped out, one of whom hit Charles with a police nightstick, three times on the lower back and once on the arm. He was taken to hospital, and was discharged late Monday. A witness jotted down the license plate number of the vehicle, and though police were able to identify the owner, witnesses were unable to identify the owner as an attacker. It is suspected that the attackers were off-duty members of the hassidic volunteer Shmira force. New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis revealed details of the attack earlier this week, and cited fears of unrest if arrests were not made soon. The incident mirrors January's attack on a teenage yeshiva student, Samuel Balkany, who was beaten by five black kids shouting "Little Jew boy, you think you own this neighborhood." "Let enough of these tribal skirmishes accumulate, and you end up with a neighborhood ready to explode," Louis wrote. Crown Heights erupted in racial riots 17 years ago after a black child was accidentally killed by a Jewish driver. The violence that followed left a Jewish student mortally wounded by a black mob. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes will seat the investigative grand jury, which comes following a meeting between the prosecutor and Andrew Charles. Assemblyman Dov Hikind said he suspected that the incident had "gone into the realm of politics." "I can't tell you how many incidents against Jews that police wouldn't classify as a bias incident," Hikind said. "I would be more than prepared to be critical of someone in the Jewish community, if they deserved it, but here there is not the slightest indication of bias." A number of Jewish leaders in Crown Heights issued a joint statement on the incident. "We understand that witnesses identified the alleged assailants as hassidic Jews, and some have speculated about their identity or if they were affiliated with any specific organization," the statement read. "We do not know the facts and we await the results of the police investigation, rather than drawing a conclusion based on speculation. We explicitly state that, except as a matter of self-defense, violence should never be condoned or tolerated. We urge anyone involved in the event to immediately contact the police so that the facts of this matter can be weighed by the criminal justice system." The police are continuing their investigation, and a meeting between police and Jewish leaders on the incident is scheduled for next week. Neighborhood leaders were expected to meet to discuss the incident later on Thursday.