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Brooklyn politicians respond to 770 Eastern Parkway synagogue knife attack

December 9, 2014 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. with Associated Press Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A member of the Lubavitch community walks through crime-scene tape as he leaves Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic headquarters on Tuesday in New York. Earlier, a knife-wielding man stabbed an Israeli student inside the Brooklyn synagogue before being fatally shot by police after he refused to drop the knife. The student, Levi Rosenblatt, is in stable condition. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

A knife-wielding man stabbed an Israeli student in the head inside a Brooklyn synagogue early Tuesday before being fatally shot by a police officer after he refused to drop the knife, officials report. Police told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that officers responded to the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic world headquarters in Crown Heights following calls that someone had been stabbed inside the synagogue. 

According to witness reports, the attacker stormed into the Brooklyn synagogue and was heard saying, “Kill the Jews” repeatedly. The victim, Levi Rosenblatt, was studying inside the synagogue at the time of the attack, said Motti Seligson, spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch. 

Rosenblatt, 22, was stabbed in the left temple and transported via EMS to Kings County Hospital, where he was listed in stable condition. 

The police state that when they arrived on scene at approximately 1:40 a.m., the suspect — identified as Calvin Peters — was armed with the knife in hand. Cellphone video footage captured by a witness inside shows Peters with what appears to be an object in his hand, and officers are heard demanding that he put the knife down.

He initially put it down, but picked it up again, police said. More officers responded and repeatedly ordered the man to drop the knife.

The officer visible on camera has his gun initially drawn and is seen re-holstering his weapon as Peters places the knife on a nearby table. Out of view from the camera, a single gunshot is heard. Police say Peters lunged at the officer with the knife and was fatally shot once by an officer.

Police said no other officers discharged their weapons. 

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“We commend the heroic efforts of the individuals who were present and took immediate action. If not for their intervention, the outcome could have been, G-d forbid, far worse,” said Rabbi Chaim Landa, another Chabad-Lubavitch spokesman.

“This morning’s attack on a Jewish student inside Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn was a horrific act of violence that has no place in our city,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. “As New Yorkers, we condemn all acts of hatred and bigotry, because an attack on one group is an attack on us all. My thoughts and prayers are with Levi Rosenblatt and his family, and I wish him a speedy recovery.”

Although Peters is alleged to have said, “Kill the Jews” prior to the attack, the case has not been classified as a possible bias crime, police said. Peters was black.

A police spokesperson informed the Eagle that the officers involved in the fatal shooting will be investigated in accordance with NYPD firearm discharge protocol. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office will not take part in the immediate investigation. Police told the Associated Press that the stabbing was not believed to be connected to terrorism. But it shook the Jewish community, still reeling over an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinian cousins last month that left four worshippers and an officer dead.

“Our Civil Rights Bureau was on the scene this morning and will be working with them if necessary,” a spokeswoman informed the Eagle

Peters’ lawyer states that his client has a history of mental illness including bipolar disorder. “Calvin Peters was a loving and devoted father,” attorney Jeffrey A. St. Clair said. “And the family is, quite frankly, shocked and disappointed at what happened. Our prayers go out to the person that was injured.” 

As the Peters family grieves their loss, St. Clair noted that there were no factors that would have led the family to be concerned that Peters may have had a mental breakdown. St. Clair said there were no recent incidents that would have caused alarm. “No,” he said. “Just total shock.” 

“The Jewish community is an important part of the fabric of Crown Heights, where I grew up, and we should all stand with them in the aftermath of this criminal act,” said U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn). 

The Crown Heights neighborhood is home to a large ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch community and was the site of racially-charged riots in 1991 following the fatal stabbing of a rabbinical student.

“I’m told that the attacker came earlier that evening, too. He was stalking the scene. Thank God he didn’t inflict more harm nor do more damage to more people,” Assemblymember Dov Hikind, whose Brooklyn constituents are largely Orthodox Jews, said in an email statement. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio commented that the police would conduct an investigation and increase security at Jewish religious institutions citywide.  

“New York City stands with the Crown Heights community, and under the leadership of the New York City Police Department, we are monitoring this case very closely and conducting a thorough investigation,” de Blasio said. 

The attack follows de Blaiso’s announcement of an ambitious plan to push mentally ill criminal offenders away from incarceration and into treatment and transition programs. The $130 million plan will address all areas of the criminal justice spectrum that interact with the mentally ill. The proposal includes 36-hour training courses for police officers on how to identify and interact with people who have behavioral health issues, creating two drop-off treatment centers for low-level offenders and giving judges more leeway to order supervised release and treatment instead of jail. 

“This incident also highlights the urgent need for increased services for emotionally disturbed or troubled people,” the mayor said Tuesday. “Preliminary reports suggest the assailant in this case suffered from mental health issues.

“We as a society must do more for those who struggle with these challenges, and it is why the city has launched a new plan to improve access to mental health care and treatment for those in need.”

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