Crown Heights, NY – IN mid-April, a young black man was struck with a baton and sprayed with Mace by two white men, and ever since, tensions have run high in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Jews and blacks who live there eye one another warily, and police patrols and surveillance have intensified.
But there is another split on these streets, between Jews and Jews, between neighborhood patrol groups that officially aspire to keep the peace.
Jewish patrols exist in several New York neighborhoods, like Brooklyn’s Borough Park, but Crown Heights is the only area that has two such competing patrols. Their names, Shomrim and Shmira, the two groups fiercely resent each other nonetheless.
“Shmira has a litany of things about Shomrim that they say they did wrong,” said Dov Hikind, an assemblyman who represents several other heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. “As for Shomrim, when I met with them, they said, ‘We have a file about Shmira.’ ”
Aron Hershkop, the coordinator of Shomrim, said that Shmira members had intimidated his volunteers, falsely informed on them to the police, and even jammed their radios with shrieks, beeping sounds and what he described as “Christian music.”
Yossi Stern, the director of Shmira, denied these accusations, saying, in effect, that Mr. Hershkop was a sore loser with a weakening organization.
Mr. Hikind said he had been urging the two groups to reunite. “There is no reason in the world why there should be two groups of people involved in patrols,” he said. But Mr. Hershkop resisted, explaining: “When people come and tell me to make peace with them, I say, ‘To me, they don’t exist anymore.’ ”
The feuding patrol groups have surfaced in the recent tensions in Crown Heights. Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, has mentioned Shmira’s name in connection with his investigation into the assault on April 14. By contrast, Mr. Hynes, who has convened an investigative grand jury to look into the attack, praised Shomrim, calling the group “established” and “respectable.”
Mr. Stern has denied any link between Shmira and the attack.And the feuding continues. “It’s a real shame, an embarrassment for myself and the public,” said Rabbi Israel Shemtov, who is sometimes credited with founding the group that preceded Shomrim and Shmira. “I said to them, ‘I’ll lock both of you in a room, and don’t come out until you work it out.’ “