On the evening of August 19, 1991, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, a vehicle in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher Rebbe accidentally struck and killed seven-year-old Gaven Cato, the son of Guyanese immigrants, and severely injured his young cousin Angela Cato.
Within hours, angry blacks began gathering in the streets, many of them shouting “kill the Jews.” A group of black youths came upon a 29-year-old student from Australia, Yankel Rosenbaum, whom they beat severely and stabbed several times. He died later at a local hospital.
Over the next three days, groups of African Americans and Caribbean Americans rampaged through the streets of Crown Heights (many of them weren’t even residents of the neighborhood) in what historians have termed the worst anti-Semitic incident in American history.
By the time the rioting ended, 152 police officers and 38 civilians had been injured, 27 vehicles destroyed, seven stores looted or burned, and 225 cases of robbery and burglary committed. More than 100 arrests were made and property damage was estimated at one million dollars
Mayor David Dinkins and Police Commissioner Lee Brown were widely disparaged for what critics – and an official investigative commission created by Governor Mario Cuomo – called an underwhelming reaction to the violence. Dinkins’s handling of the riots played a key role in his failure to win re-election two years later.
The following are excerpts of some of the coverage in the August 30, 1991 issue of The Jewish Press.
In Wake Of Sharpton’s Threats, N. Y. C. Mayor Dinkins Fears More Unrest
In the wake of three days of riots, a frightened Mayor Dinkins was apprehensive that more violence might erupt as Al Sharpton continued to stir up the community, threatening to enter the home of the young Lubavitcher chassid who was involved in the accident that killed a 7-year-old child in order to make a citizen’s arrest.
Last Friday, many local politicians were disheartened seeing a frightened mayor begging Al Sharpton and his cohorts, Herbert Daughtry and lawyer Alton H. Maddox Jr., not to march and stir up more violence.
After a few humiliating hours of pleading, the mayor left the meeting rebuffed and exhausted.
A Shut-In Tells Of Crown Heights Under Siege – A Tale Of Terror
By Paul A. Deckelman and Laura N. Deckelman
A handicapped Jewish man told a harrowing tale of terror after three days under siege in his basement apartment in riot-torn Crown Heights. His ordeal finally ended when he was able to get out of the neighborhood to take refuge elsewhere.
W. (who has asked to remain anonymous) told The Jewish Press that late in the evening on Monday, August 19, he was on President Street with his home attendant when a neighbor came over and warned him to “get in your apartment immediately, because it’s dangerous on the street.”
Before they could make it back there, though, W. says they were stopped by a group of blacks. The leader told W., “If you’re not off the streets in a few seconds when I come back, that will be the end of you,” and began to walk away. It was then that W. heard sirens and saw a line of police cars pass him, moving in to scatter the rioters. “I was saved by the police cars.”
Even with the door locked and the windows shut, he could hear waves of ominous chanting outside “like at a football rally. I think they were yelling things like ‘Kill the Jews!’ As they ran past the apartment, I heard one of them say ‘If it was up to me, I’d kill them all!’ and then after [attorney] Alton Maddox said he’d give the city two days and after that they’d take things into their own hands and look for the driver themselves I heard someone yelling, ‘Okay, you got two more days, then we’re gonna start murdering all of you!’