[CHI] — Over 200 Jewish men and women gathered Thursday evening for the monthly 71st precinct council meeting at I.S. 61 on Empire Boulevard and New York Avenue. Those gathered had one primary concern on their minds: the way police handled an incident, which took place on Wednesday afternoon and ended with the arrest of a Jew.
Deputy Inspector Peter Simonetti began the meeting by addressing that particular incident.
Simonetti said that according to a police investigation, the incident began with a 14-year-old Black male “poking fun” at Rabbi Boruch Sholom Wolf, a Yungerman in the community. The teenager yelled at Wolf in attempt to scare him, yet there was no physical contact. A few people who witnessed the incident came over to help out the Jew, at which point an altercation broke out.
“From our investigation, which was corroborated by independent witnesses, it turned out that one of the Jews threw the first punch,” said Simonetti, adding, “Therefore, we arrested both the 14-year-old youth and the 42-year-old Jewish man, and we are looking into the possibility of another suspect.”
Wolf took the floor and began with his first question to the Inspector, opening with, “I am the person who was assaulted, and I stand before you in deep pain.” Wolf proceeded to relay his side of the story. With his prepared statement he told those present, “Yesterday I was accosted by an African American stranger. Another stranger, a Jew whom I have never met before, stood up to the evil face of violence, putting himself in harm’s way in order to protect me. And harmed he was.” [see the video clip for the full speech]
All throughout Wolf’s speech, the Inspector continually interrupted him, attempting to throw him off, to which Wolf said, “I let you speak. Now I am” repeatedly.
Following Wolf’s speech, Simonetti targeted his credibility, stating that Wolf conveniently did not remember certain parts of the incident when he was questioned by police. “In your statements you told detectives that you did not see what happened two feet in front of you,” he said, to which Wolf responded, “Well, did you ever get mugged? Have you ever been traumatized by crime?”
Simonetti then attacked the credibility of this website, CrownHeights.info, saying several different times, “There is a website that reported this story wrong… he is scaring this community with false information.” He added, “The person running this website is in the audience.”
In reaction to this, Binyomin Lifshitz stood up and responded passionately, “I am the person running this website. And it is you, Inspector Simonetti, who barred me from getting the right information. It was you who told me that you would not sit at the same table as me, and it was you who refused my many attempts to have a meeting and work out our issues.”
Since its posting a few hours following the incident, the story on CrownHeights.info was modified with developing updates four different times throughout the evening and night. “In the past, the police department has been proficient in providing me with accurate, up-to-date information in sensitive stories such as this one,” Lifshitz later reflected. “Yet this time, the law enforcement was unwilling to provide me with verification on the story. Therefore, as I became aware of developments, I updated the story on my site. The story I original posted was according to eye-witness.”
After the raised vocal exchange between Lifshitz and Simonetti, the deputy inspector turned the podium over to Karl Cohen, the president of the precinct council. Cohen asking for calm and addressed Lifshitz with, “We understand your pain and feel your hurt.”
Harassment and Intimidation
As the audience dispersed, the general feeling of the 200 Jewish attendees of 71st precinct council meeting was one of neglect and disregard.
One such community member, Moshe Shatz, said, “Simonetti is arrogant and did not even try to listen to his community. I do not feel that he even remotely wanted to.”
Toward the end of the Q & A session, Aron Hershkop attempted to voice his opinion to Officer Lenny Wright about Simonetti’s methods of silencing members of the audience. Wright was captured on film threatening Hershkop and can be heard in the clip telling him, “You’re in a public place and I can lock you up right here. I can lock you right up.”
Hershkop later said in response, “These is their tactics,” referring to the officer’s threat to arrest him. “They did not permit us to speak up, and even when we tried, they cut us off and tried to get us off topic,” Referring to the words exchanged between Wright and himself, Hershkop said, “When you stand up to them they threaten to lock you up.”