August 19

This Day in History

Crime

Aug 19, 1991:

A Jewish youth is killed by a mob

Yankel Rosenbaum, a visiting student from Australia, is stabbed to death by an angry mob in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. The crowd, consisting of young black men, had been intent on seeking revenge against Jewish people for the death of seven-year-old Gavin Cato, who had been struck by a car driven by a Hasidic Jew three hours earlier. Following Rosenbaum's murder, rioting continued against Jews for four days in Crown Heights, while many complained that the response by police and Mayor David Dinkins was inadequate.

In October, 16-year-old Lemrick Nelson was charged with the murder of Rosenbaum but was acquitted after a racially charged trial the following year. But the case did not end there. Due in part to lobbying by the victim's brother, Norman Rosenbaum, the federal government charged Nelson with violating Rosenbaum's civil rights in 1994. In the meantime, a state report criticized Mayor Dinkins and the police for their lack of action during the riots—a claim that helped Rudolph Giuliani defeat Dinkins in the next mayoral election.

In 1996, a videotape of the Crown Heights incident came to light, showing Charles Price inciting a mob to assault Jews in retaliation for Cato's death. He shouted, "Kill the Jews!" and, "An eye for an eye!" In February 1997, a jury convicted both Nelson and Price for their roles in Rosenbaum's murder. Nelson was sentenced to 19 years in prison, while Price received 21 years, despite his claim that he had been exercising his right to freedom of speech.

Later, Mayor Giuliani apologized and blamed his predecessor for the city's lack of action and offered a $1.1 million settlement from the City of New York to Jews who claimed they were unprotected during the riots. Norman Rosenbaum continued to push Attorney General Janet Reno to reopen the case and go after the others in the mob, but no further arrests were made.

The driver of the car that killed Gavin Cato was cleared of any wrongdoing, and he returned to Israel.

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