The alleged perpetrator is incoming NYC councilwoman Laura Cumbo. She released a statement on her Facebook page about the knockout game which tied the attacks to reportedly rising Jewish/Black tensions in Crown Heights (where she represents). I initially heard about her statement from an article in the Jewish Press titled "NYC Councilwoman-Elect: ‘Knockout’ Triggered by Jewish Success." This article, incidentally, is not the best example of the unfair attack on Councilwoman Cumbo I'm about to detail -- it's title is misleading and the start of the story isn't great, but it gets into the nuance later on -- this article from the Examiner is more on (which is to say, off) the mark.
In her discussion, Cumbo talks at length about supposedly worsening tensions between Jews and Blacks in Crown Heights. She mentions that, in meeting with Black (particularly Afro-Caribbean) members of the community she encountered concerns that they would be "pushed out" by Jewish families and Jewish landlords. She also spoke of the "resentment" in portions of that community regarding "Jewish success", which they do not view as also "their success."
I was all prepared to make this a straightforward entrant in my next "Things People Blame the Jews for" post. But upon reading her entire post, I decided that wasn't fair. I don't think, fairly read, Cumbo was placing any of the blame for attacks on Jews, on Jews. She is quite clear these attacks are unjustified. More importantly, she at no point says or implies that Jews have actually done anything to provoke these attacks -- she is reporting on sentiments that exist in the community, not endorsing them, and I think that is abundantly clear from the text and context of the message. If we are to talk about anti-Semitism obviously that includes talking about who holds anti-Semitic beliefs and by what means and narratives they are expressed. Else the entire project of combating anti-Semitism because impossible on its terms. Cumbo is crystal clear that the wrongdoers need to be punished, and equally clear that we need to make a concerted effort to understand where these attitudes stem from and how to counteract them.
Let me be clear -- if I thought Councilwoman Cumbo was playing the "well sure these attacks are unjustified, but maybe Jews should stop rubbing their success in everyone's face" gambit, then I would not be defending her. That sort of move is bullshit and would be right in the wheelhouse of a non-ironic post in this series. But I don't see her post as saying that, and I think it is unfair to imply that she is.
In any event, I replicate her entire post below for your perusal. Draw your own conclusion:
The recent epidemic of the “Knock Out Game” in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and throughout the Nation has forced me to make some early decisions as to what type of elected official I want to be as I prepare to take office in January. It is a most challenging time to assume office, as the elderly and our children have become targets of violence, undermining the very foundation of community. I was very pleased on November 19th, 2013 that Rabbi Chanina Sperlin organized a community forum of religious leaders, school principals, elected officials, community leaders, and law enforcement to address this issue in order to prevent it from spiraling out of control both in our neighborhood and beyond.
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. Others expressed sentiments that while there has been much progress, it was unfortunate that it took a tragedy in the community to bring the leadership together once again. Some demanded justice and swift legal action, while others stressed the importance of educational programs that would teach our youth about one another’s cultures. Today, most young people are not even aware that the Crown Heights Riots even happened.
At the forum, there was a great deal of confusion about why this epidemic had begun in the first place, and whether or not it should be viewed as a series of hate crimes. My comments regarding my thoughts on the origin of the “Knock Out Game” came from a place of wanting to get to the heart of the matter, as uncomfortable as that might be for many. As I campaigned throughout the primary season, I knocked on the doors of thousands of Jewish and African American/Caribbean residents in Crown Heights. Through those interactions, 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.
I admire the Jewish community immensely. I am particularly inspired by the fact that the Jewish community has not assimilated to the dominant American culture, and has preserved their religious and cultural values while remaining true to themselves. I respect and appreciate the Jewish community’s family values and unity that has led to strong political, economic and cultural gains. While I personally regard this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.
I believe that it is critical for our communities, and especially for our young people, to gain a greater understanding of one another so that we can learn more about each other’s challenges and triumphs despite religious and cultural differences. I believe it is possible for us to create real friendships across cultural boundaries that transcend mere tolerance, but rather strive for mutual respect and admiration. I know that there is so very much that can be gained by learning from one another. When I assume office in January, I will be working with local leaders to plan a series of events that will 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.
I fully recognize the severity of these recent crimes and I, along with City, State and Federal elected officials are calling for a detailed investigation, which I am confident will lead to arrests and legal action. It is imperative that we send a zero-tolerance message to the individuals who are responsible for these attacks. Let me make it abundantly clear, notwithstanding my eagerness to build bridges between diverse peoples and communities, any crime committed by one individual against another is a crime and must be viewed and treated as such. If one person attacks another, regardless of the motivation, there is no justification for such an action. We should never blame a victim, or try to explain away any wrongdoing. The issue of race or religion is but a red-herring one when it comes to crime. As a civilized people we must hold every felon accountable for his or her felony. 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.
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 apart 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.
I am concerned that the media attention around the “Knock Out Game” is divisive and will erode the real progress that has been made over decades. The recent November 26th article published in The Jewish Week, 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. 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. –
As the Rebbe once said “There aren’t two communities living in Crown Heights. It is one community.” As the media has recently focused our attention on the “Knock Out Game,” I am challenged with the reality that a 66 year old grandfather was shot and killed earlier this week while dropping off money in Fort Greene’s Walt Whitman Houses to help a family pay for Thanksgiving dinner. There was no public outcry or calls for swift legal action for this loss of life or for the dozens of others that were killed in the public housing developments this year in the District. I want us to move forward as a community and recognize that we must all come together across religious and racial lines anytime someone in our community is attacked. I want to realize the Rebbe’s life long pursuit to "make the world a better place, and to eliminate suffering”. It is only when we all come together and see one another as human beings instead of through the lens of racial, cultural or ethnic categories that we will be able to make our communities ONE.