City Councilman-elect Robert Cornegy Says
open dialogue needed now
By Stephen Witt
Beneath the recent statement and subsequent apology by City Council-elect Laurie Cumbo for her Facebook statements weaving the “knockout game” with fears among some of her black constituents that they are being pushed out of their neighborhoods by Jewish landlords and/or Jewish families looking to purchase homes is the simmering tensions behind blacks and Jews.
And while much of this discussion is centered on the neighborhood of Crown Heights, which saw black and Jewish riots two decades ago, the tension between the two groups is ramping up in Bedford-Stuyvesant as the large and growing Satmar Hasidic sect is stretching out from Williamsburg and moving into Bed-Stuy.
As Our Time Press exclusively reported in August, this included a turf war over the use of the park attached to the Marcy Public Houses, which was settled amicably. The story also reported complaints from African-Americans of Jewish predatory behavior in approaching homeowners at all hours to sell their property and Hasidic men approaching women of color with offers of money for sexual services.
On the other side, it reported complaints from Hasidic Jews of young men of color congregating and posturing in an intimidating nature.
The most recent incident occurred on Dec. 1 along Flushing Avenue – the border of Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy – where Taj Patterson, a gay black college student, was allegedly beaten by a gang of Hasidic men who also used antigay slurs. At press time, no arrests have been made in the beating.
“I literally have to go and begin to have sit-downs with leaders in both communities,” said City Councilman-elect Robert Cornegy, who helped mediate and ease tensions between the two groups over the use of the playground. “Tension is on the rise and we can either deal with this now very quickly and succinctly or wait and let something fester. Right now, we’re looking at the Bed-Stuy equivalent of what led up to the riots in Crown Heights and without responsible reporting and responsibility among the leadership this could be the new face of bad race relations,” he added.
Cornegy called for the immediate arrest of the people that beat Patterson, and said it is his understanding that often arrests of Hasidic men take place with local rabbis who serve as intermediaries.
Cornegy said, unlike Cumbo, he tends to be a little more reserved in his public comments about the relationship between blacks and Jews because as leaders, “we have a responsibility to inspire and not just incite behaviors”.
Anybody involved in the “knockout” crimes or any crimes should be arrested and prosecuted period, he said.
At the same time, Cornegy said he was appalled at the many derogatory and inciting comments on the blogs and stories revolving around Cumbo’s statements which included her being called a “porch monkey” and that she should be “knocked out”.
“Her statements shouldn’t have inspired blatant racism. Even if she was wrong those responses didn’t match Laurie’s sentiments. Some of those comments were the worst I’ve seen since Mississippi during civil rights,” said Cornegy.
“The whole thing is very scary and people should take a pause right now before something else happens. We’ve recently lost Nelson Mandela – someone who stood firmly to improve race relations. Something is wrong with race relations in this country if stories like these have to be written. This is not 1963, it’s 2013,” he added.