Laurie Cumbo, the councilwoman-elect for Crown Heights – a Brooklyn neighborhood that has been in the spotlight before because of racist attacks on Jews – stepped into the limelight when she argued that recent so-called ‘knockout’ attacks on innocent people may stem from what she calls “a genuine concern” on the part of her constituents about Jewish influence on the community. She is an ally of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat.
In an open letter posted to her Facebook page, Cumbo claims that a number of her African-American constituents are alarmed by the growth of the local Jewish community. Cumbo says that tensions arising between her African-American and Jewish constituents may have led to several assaults on Jews. Crown Heights is home to a significant community of Orthodox Jews.
Addressing her “Facebook Family,” Cumbo expressed on December 3 “zero-tolerance” for the “”knockout game.’” She cited efforts by Rabbi Chanin Sperlin to organize fellow religious leaders to counter the assaults.
Cumbo referenced the history of anti-Semitism in her district, which two decades ago saw riots that resulted in the murder of a Jewish student. “Many thoughts emerged from that meeting, including a recognition that the African American/Caribbean/Jewish community had come a long way since the Crown Heights Riots over twenty years ago.”
Saying that she visited “thousands” of homes of “Jewish and African American/Caribbean residents in Crown Heights, she said that “it was brought to my attention by many of the African American/Caribbean residents that perhaps the relationship between the two communities is not as great as it is currently perceived to be by the leadership. At the meeting, I shared that many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes. I relayed these sentiments at the forum not as an insult to the Jewish community, but rather to offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens could conceivably commit a ‘hate crime’ against a community that they know very little about.”
While she expressed admiration for the Jewish community, she recognized that “for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.”
Cumbo promised that she will join local leaders to plan events to “bring our young people together. It is crucial that we do the hard work to truly create one community, and I am looking for your full support and participation.” She recognized that there is no justification for the attacks and that victims should not be blamed. “Yet, since the issue of race has been unfortunately been introduced into the conversation about the current epidemic, I pray that I can assist in bringing my Jewish and African-American/Caribbean constituents to a far better relationship and understanding than the ones that exists today.”
She also recognized that “As an African American woman, this is challenging, because I recognize that it is Black children and not Jewish children that are playing the “Knock Out Game.” Why is this? In many ways governmental neglect, outside uncontrolled influences and failed leadership have led to the breakdown that so many young people of color are currently facing. I feel torn because I feel a part of the very system that has caused the destructive path that so many young people have decided to take while I am simultaneously demanding that they be arrested by that same system.”
Cumbo expressed frustration over an article published on November 26 by The Jewish Week, which she claimed ”paints African American teens in a dangerous light, and could cause the vast majority of innocent young people of color to be seen as criminals in the Crown Heights community as a result of the actions of a dangerous small minority.” Even so, Cumbo pointed her finger at anti-Semitism in her community, saying “At the same time, there are some people in the African-American/Caribbean community who foster stereotypical views of Jewish people, which is why it is important that we create a more open dialogue."
For their part, several prominent African-American leaders have instead launched a campaign on social media to counter the ‘knockout game.’ Al Sharpton of the National Action Nework, Marc Morial of the National Urban League, and millionaire Russell Simmons joined Rabbi Marc Schneier to stop the targeting of Jews. Rabbi Schneier and Simmons are president and chairman, respectively, of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. The three African-American leaders have also recorded messages of solidarity with the Jewish community and other victims of the knockouts. Sharpton, Simmons and Morial have all recorded message of solidary with the Jewish community and all of the victims of the violent attacks.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.