Riots report puts pressure on Dinkins: New York mayor responded 'poorly' to flare-up between blacks and Jews

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The Independent Online
THE mayor of New York, David Dinkins, was yesterday severely criticised in an official report for not exercising strong leadership in the Crown Heights riots between blacks and Hasidic Jews in the summer of 1991. The report, ordered by the New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, could harm the chances of Mr Dinkins, who is the city's first black mayor, being re-elected in November. A Democrat, Mr Dinkins is locked in a tight race with the former Republican state prosecutor, Rudolph Giuliani, who is offering a tougher approach to the city's economic and racial problems.

The long-awaited report states that the New York police failed to 'implement timely and appropriate tactics' to quell the riots that continued for three nights, and gave misleading information to the mayor's office suggesting they were in control of the rioting. The mayor, who had access to TV and newspaper reports contradicting the police reports, failed to question the police assessment until the third day of the riots, the report said.

It was clear by the second day of the riots that they were out of control and the police action was inadequate, said the report. The mayor has said that he is ultimately 'accountable' for the police action during the riots which were the worst in the city for 20 years.

Long-standing allegations by Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights that the mayor had deliberately given orders to the police to hold back were dismissed by the report. 'There is absolutely no evidence of this,' said the report's author, Richard Girgenti, the state's criminal justice director.

Mr Dinkins took office determined to replace the confrontational politics of the former mayor, Ed Koch, with compromise and conciliation, particularly in respect of race relations. But he failed on the night of 19 August 1991, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, when a 7-year-old black boy was hit and killed by a car driven by a Hasidic Jew. In the violence that followed a Hasidic scholar, Yankel Rosenbaum, 29, was stabbed to death. The report says the prosecution of this case in which a 16-year-old black youth was tried and acquitted of the murder contained serious errors, with evidence not being adequately assessed, and the case has now been referred to the Attorney-General, Janet Reno. For the next two nights riots continued in Crown Heights, where blacks make up about 85 per cent of the population and Hasidim 10 per cent.

For years, the two groups have fought over their share of government dollars, police protection and housing, with the Hasidim wielding political clout through a craftier handling of local voting procedures. The blacks have been gaining ground recently, however, causing friction in the district.

City officials were anxiously awaiting reactions to the report. Earlier, a Crown Heights black religious leader, the Rev Herbert Daughtry, had called for a report on the neighbourhood with a wider scope than the 1991 riots. In remarks Jewish leaders feared would inflame the divisions in the society, he charged that the Hasidim 'have difficulty living with other people . . . they seem to have difficulty adjusting within a pluralistic society'.

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