Crown Heights

Festival marking 25th anniversary of Crown Heights unrest is praised and panned

Gavin Cato’s Dad Sees ‘No Problem’ with Commemoration Event; Yankel Rosenbaum’s Brother Calls it ‘an Insult’

August 17, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Carmel Cato, left, and Norman Rosenbaum are pictured in August 2003 in New York. Cato and Rosenbaum — both of whom lost family members in the riots — have different opinions on the upcoming festival that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the violent events. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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Twenty-five years later, the 1991 Crown Heights riots — one of the most infamous eruptions of racial violence in New York City history — are still sparking polarized opinions.

One Crown Heights, a community festival scheduled this weekend to mark the 25th anniversary of the riots, was endorsed Wednesday by Carmel Cato, the father of 7-year-old Gavin Cato, the boy whose death sparked the unrest.

“It should be fun, for the kids, especially,” Carmel Cato told the New York Post when asked about the planned festival, which has been billed as featuring games, rides, arts-and-crafts booths and kosher and non-kosher food. “For the kids, it’s no problem. It’s the adults that are the problem. They’re the ones that are still angry.”

Among those angered by the upcoming Aug. 21 festival is Norman Rosenbaum, the brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year Hasidic Jewish man who was fatally stabbed in the midst of mob fury after Gavin Cato was struck and killed by a car in a motorcade carrying Hasidic Grand Rebbe Menachem Schneerson through the neighborhood.

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Lemrick Nelson, a black man who was 16 years old at the time of the riots, was ultimately charged with slaying Yankel Rosenbaum. He was acquitted in 1992 of killing Rosenbaum as a hate crime, but was convicted in federal court in 2003 of violating his civil rights.

Five years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the riots, Carmel Cato and Norman Rosenbaum got together for a televised breakfast, at which Rosenbaum said, “We want to be able to demonstrate that what occurred 20 years ago wasn’t acceptable then, is not acceptable now and will never be acceptable in the future.”

But on Monday, a clearly bitter Rosenbaum told the Post that “the decision to hold a ‘community festival’ to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Crown Heights riots is shameful and a disgrace. This is not a time for rides and amusements. It is an insult to the memory of Yankel Rosenbaum.”

However, festival organizers both black and Jewish, counter that the purpose of the festival is to foster unity in the neighborhood. It’s being sponsored by local elected officials and civic groups, including the Anti-Defamation League; the Jewish Children’s Museum; City Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo, Darlene Mealy and Robert Cornegy; and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Asked Tuesday about Norman Rosenbaum’s reaction to the festival plans, Adams conceded that “he has a right to be upset, and I respect his right to be upset. But not only was his brother impacted by the riots of Crown Heights, so was the entire community.”

The borough president noted that as part of One Crown Heights, “there will be a memorial program to show the loss of lives of two innocent people, but at the same time the rebirth of the community.

“We’re not having a carnival or a festival to celebrate death, we’re having a celebration of life,” Adams insisted. “So I would say to Norman Rosenbaum, ‘Come out and walk with me, let’s walk together to show people that we can turn pain into purpose.’ I’m hoping he will come.”


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