Brooklyn, NY – The charges against Farrukh Afzal, the Staten Island livery driver who beat a Chasidic Borough Park resident on his way to the synagogue have been changed again, with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office reinstating previously dropped hate crime charges in the October 14th incident.
News of the upgraded charges broke late Friday afternoon, with the District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office confirming that a prosecutor announced that an indictment returned against Afzal by a grand jury included a top count of felony assault as a hate crime.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2yn1Ent), Gonzalez had come under increasing pressure for dropping the initial hate crime charges against Afzal, releasing an editorial to the media explaining that while he was personally outraged by the attack, careful and deliberate analysis of the facts is a crucial component in the pursuit of justice for any victim.
Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the New York State Police’s Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate the incident on October 17th, just hours after City Councilman Chaim Deutsch held a press conference outside the New York Police Department headquarters denouncing two recent anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn and calling for Afzal to be charged with a hate crime.
While the incident was initially described by CBS News as a case of road rage prompted by an earlier exchange between Afzal and the victim or someone with a similar appearance, video surveillance proved otherwise.
Community Board 12 chairman Yidel Perlstein said that footage going back as far as 35th Street on 13th Avenue showed Afzal driving at a reasonable rate of speed and stopping for every red light.
Just blocks later, the footage showed Afzal aiming his car first at Shia Langsam as he crossed 13th Avenue and then seconds later deliberately running a short distance to attack 62 year old Lipa Schwartz instead of venting his anger on the closest person, a nearby delivery man unloading a truck located just across the avenue from Afzal’s car.
The fact that Afzal had been driving calmly for blocks and directed his wrath specifically at Langsam, Schwartz and a third Chasidic man who attempted to intervene in the beating demonstrated a pattern of bias, said Perlstein, one that painted a different picture for the district attorney’s office than that of road rage or mistaken identity.
Perlstein also noted that building a case is a methodical process that can take large amounts of time and manpower, and he credited both the NYPD and the district attorney’s office for devoting significant resources to their investigations and for taking the Jewish community’s concerns seriously.
Local officials who had advocated for their constituents by urging Gonzalez’s office to bring bias charges against Afzal responded enthusiastically to news of the upgraded charges.
Deutsch, chair of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus, released a statement less than half an hour before Shabbos, noting that it was important for Afzal to be held fully accountable for his actions.
“We will not sit quietly on the sidelines when a Jewish man gets attacked,” Deutsch told VIN News.
Deutsch expressed his gratitude to Gonzalez, the NYPD and members of the Boro Park Shomrim for treating the incident with the seriousness it deserved noting, “if not for them, this would only be a wanted poster.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind echoed those thoughts, saying that he was happy for the Schwartz family that Afzal would be facing hate crime charges.
“When I met with Lipa Schwartz on Sunday he said that only words he remembered of the attack was a constant refrain of ‘Allah, Allah,’ and I think that that was very important,” said Hikind. “When you have a Muslim beating an Orthodox Jew you have to look at the wider picture and I am glad that he was indicted for the hate crime as well as the other charges.”
Lipa Schwartz VIN interview below