Boro Park Betrayed


The Orthodox Jews of Boro Park, who trusted the Giuliani administration—which prevailed on them to remain silent and promised a fair investigation after a young Jewish man was gunned down by police last summer—feel like a community betrayed. The four officers who fired 12 shots that killed Gidone Busch last August 30 walk the streets of New York today, acquitted of all charges.

Doris Busch Boskey, the victim’s mother, who plans to file a civil suit next month, says, “I feel betrayed by Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Safir because they should have waited to hear the real facts before incriminating my son on television the day after he was killed. I feel betrayed because they labeled him violently deranged before knowing anything about him. I feel betrayed because I never got a sympathy call from Giuliani and because they had no intention of a fair investigation. I feel betrayed because there was an agenda to not indict the cops from day one.”

As Orthodox Jews marched in the streets after Busch, 31, was blown away Diallo-style in front of his apartment building at 1619 46th Street, one prominent Hasidic resident with ties to the NYPD alleges that Bruce Teitelbaum, a key Giuliani aide and liaison to the Jewish community, beseeched religious leaders to calm residents.

Within days, posters headed “Urgent Plea from the Rabbonim,” which called upon “all members of the Boro Park community who fear the word of G-d, to stay away from any demonstrations and Chilul Hashem [profaning the name of God],” went up throughout the neighborhood. They were signed by, among others, Rabbi Nafatali Tzvi Halberstam of the Bobover Hasidim, Rabbi Shlomo Gross of the Belzers, and Satmar rabbi Dovid Dov Meisels. (Observers point out that fear of profaning the word of God hasn’t stopped pivotal demonstrations in the past in Boro Park and Crown Heights, another Hasidic enclave.)

And the day after the shooting, according to Steven Walz, an editor at the ultra-conservative Jewish Press, “brass from the police department”—including Deputy Commissioner Richard Sheirer—went to the paper, emphasizing “their side of the story.” Articles subsequently appeared in the Press in defense of the officers.

In addition, the victim’s grieving brother alleges that Noach Dear—a political ally of the mayor—personally intervened on the day of the funeral. As Busch’s secular Jewish family mourned his death at their mother and stepfather’s home in Dix Hills, Long Island, hundreds of Boro Park residents arrived to pay their respects and convey their support.

Amid the din came a condolence call from Dear. Glenn Busch, a Manhattan attorney, remembers that he was pleased to hear from the Boro Park councilman, and suggested that they organize a protest of some sort in response to the atrocity. According to Busch, Dear told him, “Your brother wouldn’t want you to because God wouldn’t want you to.” Confused, Busch “let it go”—then, that night, watched in horror as Dear appeared on TV alongside Giuliani and Safir, declaring that the shooting had been justified.

Two days later, Mrs. Boskey picked up the phone and found herself talking to Hillary Clinton. They had a 20-minute “mother-to-mother” talk.

It was a hot night last August when the ultra-Orthodox shtetl began to lose its pro-Giuliani, pro-NYPD “innocence.” That was the night that Mrs. Boskey’s youngest son, Gidone (né Gary) Busch—a spiritual, eccentric Ba’altshuva (newly Orthodox Jew), now labeled a hammer-wielding lunatic—was gunned down in front of numerous passersby. Every witness who has subsequently come forward disputes the officers’ story that Busch was attacking a policeman with a hammer when he was shot.

In the aftermath of the shooting, community leaders complied with Giuliani administration pleas to remain calm—and silent—because City Hall and Police Commissioner Howard Safir would make sure that a thorough investigation would take place.

“We now realize that the investigation was not taken seriously,” Boro Park rabbi Shmuel Kunda told the Voice. As Kunda put it recently, writing to the faithful in the Jewish Press: “We should not forget this simple but unsettling fact: that the four police officers who killed Gideon [sic] Busch are still walking the streets of Boro Park wearing the very same uniforms and carrying the very same revolvers they used in the shooting.”

The change in Boro Park’s attitude is perhaps best summed up by a soft-spoken, older neighbor of Busch’s, who said he told a black reporter after the shooting, “Yesterday I believed that when the police would shoot down a black man, they had a reason. Now I realize that the police can be animals—and they have the power to cover it up at all costs. The next time a black man gets shot, I’m marching with you.”

Immediately after the killing, as residents demonstrated and Reverend Sharpton visited the community to express support, Safir and Giuliani pleaded with local leaders to wait and see what the grand jury would decide. True to form, the Orthodox Jews subsided into silence, continuing to hold out trust in the mayor, unlike the African American community, which rose in unified anger following the attack on Abner Louima and the killing of Amadou Diallo.

Even the witnesses to the Busch shooting—who concur that at no point did Busch swing a hammer at anyone—believed that a fair investigation would take place. Then, on November 1, came the appalling news: the grand jury had exonerated all four of the officers who fired at Busch and had found the killing of the frail, 31-year-old ex-medical student totally justified.

Outraged, Congressman Jerrold Nadler met last month with Attorney General Janet Reno to plead for a federal investigation. On January 14, Mrs. Boskey and Gary’s father, Norman Busch, filed a statement with the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The family’s legal team, which has filed a “notice of claim” with the city, includes Ellen Yaroshefsky, Barry Scheck, and Johnnie Cochran (Scheck and Cochran also represent the Louima family and formerly represented the Diallos), assisted by New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Norman Siegel.

The last day of Gidone Busch’s life, he was going through an “emotional crisis,” according to his mother. Recently engaged, he had also befriended a homeless, non-Jewish man, who spent time in his house. In addition, according to Mrs. Boskey, her son was disoriented because he was nearsighted and had left his glasses at her house on a recent visit. She had just mailed them to him. (Police allege that Busch also may have been smoking marijuana, which was found in his apartment.)

Twice that evening the cops came to his apartment, responding first at 5:44 to a neighbor’s complaint that Busch was playing loud music and dancing in the streets while indecently dressed. According to a witness, Joseph Horowitz, when an officer arrived, Busch—by then fully dressed—reached to shake the cop’s hand, at which point the officer allegedly responded, “I don’t want to touch your disgusting hand,” then added, “You better behave—we don’t want to come back.” (As reported in Newsday, Horowitz said Busch told the cops he wasn’t feeling well, and asked to be taken to a hospital. The officers refused, later explaining that he wasn’t doing anything illegal at that time.)

About an hour later, the 66th Precinct received another call about Busch, this time alleging “strange behavior.”

Raphael Eisenberg, who lives several blocks away and did not know the victim, noticed two policemen with nightsticks approaching Busch’s building. He became curious and followed them. Eisenberg told the Voice he then saw “a man with a hammer” standing in a basement-apartment doorway. He said the cops called for backup as Sergeant Terrence O’Brien descended the stairs to confront Busch.

Then things turned ugly. Despite a 1997 CCRB recommendation that pepper spray not be used on emotionally disturbed persons, Officer Daniel Gravitch allegedly pepper-sprayed Busch, who then, according to Eisenberg, ran blindly up the stairs, screaming, in an attempt to get away from his attacker. In so doing, according to Eisenberg, Busch bumped into O’Brien, who police believe may have been scratched by the hammer.

Witnesses said Busch ran onto the sidewalk, holding the hammer over his head (“like it had some religious power,” says Eisenberg), then turned to face the cops, still screaming, with his back against the wall of an adjacent building. Six officers closed in, forming a semicircle around Busch—at least four feet from him—while other cops gathered in the background.

According to 16-year-old Aaron Gerlitt, one cop yelled, “Drop it or we’ll shoot.” Said Eisenberg, “All I could hear was Busch screaming. His back was to the wall, with the hammer over his head.” Another witness, Abe Jacobowitz, concurred. “Busch wasn’t moving, he wasn’t gesturing with the hammer.” According to Gerlitt, one cop counted to three, and then fired a shot. There was a pause. Then four cops pumped 11 more bullets into the victim. (O’Brien, 35—who, according to The New York Times, fired half the shots that hit Busch—has 12 previous CCRB complaints, two for force, which were substantiated. Officer William Loshavio, 28, who fired twice, has 19 previous complaints, three of which were substantiated. Sergeant Joseph Memoly, 29, who fired three shots, has one previous complaint, for which he was exonerated. Officer Martin Sanabria, 31, who fired one shot, has no previous complaints.)

Stunned, Eisenberg recalls that he asked one officer, “Why did you shoot him?” He says the cop did not respond.

Adding to the eeriness of the scene, witnesses noticed Busch’s tefillin (small leather boxes containing scriptural passages, which are bound to the arm with straps) on the steps. Tefillin are used only during prayer.

The officers huddled as Busch lay bleeding to death. Later, a caller to Brian Lehrer on WNYC charged that an ambulance from Hatzoloh (the volunteer medical service that is staffed and paid for by the community) was prevented for 15 minutes by the police from attending to Busch. He was dead on arrival at Maimonides Hospital.

That night, several neighborhood sources allege, detectives questioning witnesses crossed off the names of people who said that the shooting had been unprovoked. One neighbor claims he saw a detective throw away notes he’d been taking after a woman told him that the police had committed an atrocity. (Due to what he described as “an ongoing investigation,” NYPD detective Vincent Gravelli declined to comment on these charges as well as any others put forth in this piece.)

The next day, Safir announced that the police had seven witnesses who supported the cops’ version of the story. He has yet to bring them forth. On October 5, Jayson Blair of The New York Times wrote that “investigators now believe that none of the six officers at the scene of the shooting had been struck with the hammer, and . . . no witnesses could be found to confirm Mr. Safir’s version of events.”

Eisenberg, who later testified before the grand jury, says it was evident to him from the start that it was a kangaroo court. He feels that Assistant District Attorney Jay Shapiro tried to discredit his testimony on minutia. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes’s career is based on his relationship with the cops, Eisenberg notes. “And,” he adds, “that was clear” during the grand jury proceedings.

As early as four days after the shooting, some in the Orthodox community began to sense a cover-up. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a strident Giuliani foe, produced six witnesses whose accounts differed markedly from the police officers’. Feeling betrayed by the cops who had paid a visit earlier that week, the Jewish Press began publishing furious editorials. A few weeks later, at a meeting with Safir, Boro Park Jewish leaders told him that they and their congregations were concerned about how the police had acted. Then a leader of the Agudat Israel Movement, which represents all the ultra-Orthodox groups in Boro Park, wrote Safir that there is “a widespread sense that something went terribly wrong.”

Glenn Busch had had the same feeling: “When I got to the police station the night Gary was killed,” he told the Voice, “all they wanted to know was Gary’s medical history. I knew they were up to something.

According to Ellen Yaroshefsky, who heads the family’s legal team, “There has definitely been a cover-up. The strangest thing is that not one officer can remember who shot first.” Busch’s killing, she adds, is “part of a long-standing pattern.”

Barry Scheck points out that “the police should have been informed of the CCRB recommendation” regarding the use of pepper spray on emotionally disturbed suspects. “The department needs to set up appropriate procedures in handling mentally disturbed people,” he adds.

Writing a series of passionate articles in the Jewish Press, Rabbi Kunda pleaded with readers to “flood” City Hall with “strong letters, Emails, and faxes expressing indignation and anger at what happened”—although Kunda ackowledges readers’ fears that “if we don’t vote for the mayor in the Senate, we’ll be stuck with Hillary Clinton—a much worse alternative.” Other Busch sympathizers take note of Boro Park’s conflicting loyalties.

Cynthia Greenberg, associate director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, which has been involved in protests in the Louima and Diallo cases, held an event last week at the Upper West Side liberal Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, seeking broader support for the Busch case.

“We called the Busch family right after the shooting,” she declares. “As Jews, we wanted them to know we are here for them.”

Gary Busch, described as a “gentle soul” by his teachers, friends, and relatives, became Orthodox in Israel after leaving medical school in the middle of his third year, in 1993. In Israel, he began to suffer from manic depression. During his worst episodes, his mother says, he wouldn’t eat or talk to people for days. At his most manic extreme, during his final eight months in Boro Park, he would outrage neighbors by dancing expressively to his own highly amplified Hasidic music in the street.

As Gary’s fiancée, Netanya Ullman, also a wide-eyed Ba’altshuva, walks with a Voice reporter toward the staircase descending to his former basement home, she gestures energetically to the sidewalk where, she recalls, he “danced the most beautiful dances” she ever saw.

“He carved the Hebrew name of God into his hammer, which he called his staff,” she explains. “Everything had spiritual significance to Gary. He was incredible.” (In fact, at his mother’s home in Long Island, even his alarm clock has the Hebrew name of God scratched on the sides.)

“There’s no doubt Gary was a little nutty,” says the older next-door neighbor, “but I never considered him dangerous. The kids always played with him, and my own grandchildren did on the day he was killed.” Some of the parents in the community were away for the summer, and when they returned they were taken aback by his “strange” ways, he said. “But it’s a shame they didn’t understand him.”

In her grief, Doris Busch Boskey has become something of an activist, first joining protesters in early January outside the Brooklyn courthouse when jury selection began in the case of the officers allegedly involved with Justin Volpe in the Louima attack, then journeying to Albany for the Diallo trial. She obsessively collects articles and looks for new leads in her son’s case. She has compared experiences with mothers of other police-killing victims—perhaps most extensively with Iris Baez of the Bronx, mother of Anthony Baez, who died in 1994 in a notorious “choking death” case. Officer Francis Livoti was acquitted of criminally negligent homicide in 1996, but was convicted in 1998 of civil rights violations.

Mrs. Boskey emphasizes her son’s virtues. He wrote poetry. He was just starting his own Web-design business. He took care of her when her sister passed away last year. “He would go out with the intention of befriending and feeding drug addicts,” even bringing one to her Long Island home.

In her living room last week, Mrs. Boskey proudly showed a Voice reporter a lovely, illustrated book of poems that her son wrote during the final months of his life. She turned the pages to one of her favorites, titled “The Grateful Earth,” in which Gary recounts a trip he took to the cemetery where members of his family are laid to rest. It ends:

I sang out at the top of my lungs

Cause not a soul in this place had any objections to honesty

Or any objections to truth

And I took comfort in my friends and family

Who were resting in the earth.

Now his mother takes comfort in her slain son’s words.

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