Rebel Yells


Thirteen years ago this month, the streets of Crown Heights erupted in the city’s bloodiest race uprising since the 1960s. Depending on which side of the violence you resided on during that time, the incident is recalled as either the Crown Heights “Race Riots,” or “Rebellion.” For everyone, it was the summer the lid blew off festering racial tension between the two most populous groups in the neighborhood, Blacks and Hasidic Jews.

On August 19, 1991, a car from the Lubavitcher grand rebbe’s motorcade spun out of control and jumped a sidewalk near Eastern Parkway striking two seven-year-old African American children, killing one and seriously injuring the other. Blacks claimed that EMS workers of the Jewish ambulance that arrived on the scene ignored the children and left after tending to the driver. Though the accusation was denied by Jewish residents, violence ensued within hours.

For three days and nights hundreds of black youths took to the streets in anger, throwing rocks and bottles at Jews on sight. For Blacks it was an overdue cry of freedom against those who, they felt, joined in their oppression.

For Jews it was a familiar cry of bigotry as the mob raced through the neighborhood shouting every anti-Semitic slur created by man. For the rest of the city it was a rude awakening to the racial tensions that plagued many neighborhoods. When all was said and done, 86 officers and over 20 civilians were wounded; 44 people were arrested.

No one ever said rebellion was pretty, but at least it gets the shit out in the open. Over the last decade the two groups have worked hard to mend their differences and put the Crown Heights riot/rebellion behind them.