Hate crime case resurrects racial wounds in NYC

NEW YORK — Yitzhak Shuchat, a white member of a civilian patrol group, and Andrew Charles, the black son of a police officer, came face to face in 2008 in a neighborhood with a history of racial strife — that much is certain.

But six years later, the circumstances of the encounter in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn remain murky, even as prosecutors pursue charges against 28-year-old Shuchat alleging he attacked Charles because of his race. Shuchat’s supporters in the neighborhood’s Orthodox Jewish community have reacted with dismay over what they call a hate crime investigation gone awry.

Authorities “took a minor incident and made it into a very serious situation,” said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who is Jewish. “This could have been resolved a long time ago. It makes absolutely no sense.”

The case received renewed attention last month when deputy U.S. Marshals retrieved Shuchat from Israel after he lost a lengthy extradition fight. He pleaded not guilty July 18 in a Brooklyn court to second-degree assault as a hate crime, attempted assault and other charges and was released on $300,000 bail put up by Jewish benefactors.

Prosecutors have yet to explain why they’re treating the case as a racial incident, said Shuchat’s attorney, Paul Batista. In other hate crime cases, there are typically racial slurs or other clear evidence of bias.

“I don’t know where the hate element came in,” Batista said. “Yitzy has no racial animus toward anyone.”

Asked in a recent television interview to describe their encounter, Charles responded, “They attacked us, and that’s about it.” He didn’t elaborate.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office declined to comment.

The case resurrected old wounds in Crown Heights, where violence exploded in 1991 after a black child, Gavin Cato, was accidentally hit and killed by a car in a Jewish motorcade. A group of blacks responded by stabbing to death a rabbinical student from Australia who was walking down the street.

Over the years the tensions in Crown Heights have dissipated as the neighborhood has become more gentrified. But occasional violence linked to race or religion has persisted — and can still stir up old fears.

In 2008, the New York Police Department increased patrols in Crown Heights after the incident with Charles and a report that a Jewish teenager was robbed and beaten by black kids.

According to police, Charles was walking with a black friend when they were confronted by a white man who pepper-sprayed Charles. Then an SUV pulled up and a white passenger — later identified by police as Shuchat — jumped out and hit him with a nightstick.

Authorities concluded Shuchat and the other man were volunteers with the civilian patrol, Shmira, and convened a grand jury to look into the matter — a move criticized by the Jewish community but welcomed by black leaders.

“You can’t have a group, whether it’s the Bloods, Crips or Shmira, acting like vigilantes,” then-District Attorney Charles Hynes told a local Jewish newspaper.

After learning he was wanted as a suspect, Shuchat fled to Israel through Canada amid claims he couldn’t get a fair trial. He was indicted on the hate crime charges a few weeks later after prosecutors concluded bias was the only motive.

The defense doesn’t dispute that Shuchat had a run-in with Charles. But it says Shuchat was responding to a radio call reporting that two black men were throwing rocks and cursing at Jews. It also claims Charles wasn’t harmed despite being taken to the hospital.

“It was an argument between two people on the street,” Batista said. “There’s nothing more to it.”

Shuchat started a family in Israel before Brooklyn prosecutors sought his extradition. While he fought it, Crown Heights Jewish leaders circulated letters of support and started a defense fund.

“Ytizy’s young family does not deserve to be torn apart by a prosecution out to pander to rabble-rousers in the community,” wrote the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.

Community activist Taharka Robinson, who’s advising Charles’ family, said Shuchat’s decision to leave the country was telling.

“I don’t believe anyone would flee and go through Canada to get into Israel if they did not engage in an act that injured someone,” he said.

Shuchat’s supporters see the extradition as an opportunity for vindication.

“I’m glad he’s back so things can be cleared up,” Hikind said.

More in Local News

At long last, a church of his own

After years of filling in elsewhere, Hallack Greider is the new pastor at Maplewood Presbyterian.

Judge: Lawmakers’ emails, texts subject to public disclosure

News organizations had sued to challenge the Legislature’s claim that members were exempt.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Outgoing councilwoman honored by Marysville Fire District

The Marysville Fire District in December honored outgoing City Councilwoman Donna Wright… Continue reading

Everett district relents on eminent domain moving expenses

Homeowners near Bothell still must be out by April to make way for a planned new high school.

Their grown children died, but state law won’t let them sue

Families are seeking a change in the state’s limiting wrongful-death law.

Officials rule train-pedestrian death an accident

The 37-year-old man was trying to move off the tracks when the train hit him, police say.

Number of flu-related deaths in county continues to grow

Statewide, 86 people have died from the flu, most of whom were 65 or older.

Ex-Monroe cop re-arrested after losing sex crime case appeal

He was sentenced to 14 months in prison but was free while trying to get his conviction overturned.

Most Read