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Media, political, and religious figures to hold panel for 20th anniversary of Crown Heights riots

KIMBERLEY BANJOKO Special to the AmNews | 5/25/2011, 5:30 p.m.

This Thursday, May 19, the 92Y Resource Center for Jewish Diversity is holding a seminar to remember the 1991 Crown Heights riots, an event that exemplified the disastrous state of African-American and Jewish relations in the Brooklyn neighborhood. A panel of speakers, including media icon Russell Simmons, City Council Member Leticia James, Rabbis Marc Schneier and Bob Kaplan, Jewish Multicultural Center President April Baskin, and Canadian-Jamaican Jewish speaker Shirah Schmidt will represent the African-American and Jewish communities in the discussion of current Afro-Jewish relations in the neighborhood as well as throughout the city.

"This discussion is worthwhile because it is beneficial to the Black community to have a good relationship with all communities," said Simmons. "This is a chance and a moment for us to move forward in our community."

The riots, which lasted three days, started August 19, 1991, when 7-year-old Guyanese-American Gavin Cato was killed in a car crash. The automobile, part of notable Hasidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's motorcade, was driven by Yosef Lisch, who struck another car pushing it into a building. The building's wall collapsed, killing Cato and maiming his cousin Angela. As the Black community responded to the boy's death, a riot ensued. A group of Jews attacked the police precinct and set fire to a patrol car-during the melee, Hasidic Jew Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed and died from his injuries.

The riots called attention to the escalating tension between the African-American and Jewish communities in the city and had a profound effect on the 1993 mayoral race. City government officials and community leaders were pushed to take proactive measures in order to settle the tension, and the situation improved rapidly.

"There isn't a great deal of anti-Semitism in America now, which is more of a reason for these collaborations," Simmons concluded. "The doors are wide open, so why can't we walk through them? We need to push for a better life because a lack of consciousness is affecting all communities."

The event will be held in the Buttenwieser Hall of the 92nd Street Y at 1395 Lexington Ave., this Thursday, May 19 at 8:15 p.m. The cost of entry is $29.