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Media Ghosts of the Crown Heights Riot


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Washington Free Beacon

It was an outbreak of anti-Semitic violence. You wouldn’t have known it from the media coverage.

Drew Holden

August 19, 2021

Thirty years ago, anti-Semitic violence erupted in Crown Heights, a neighborhood of New York City, as an angry mob of largely black and Caribbean-American residents descended on Lubavitcher Hasidic homes, businesses, and individuals in retaliation for a traffic accident.

If you read the New York Times in the days that followed, you wouldn't have known.

It wasn't because the paper of record hadn't covered the violence. They had. But their reporting and that of other influential papers at the time was entirely divorced from what we now know occurred, consistently overlooking or obscuring the anti-Semitic nature of the attacks.

On August 19, 1991, a car taking part in a motorcade for Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Lubavitcher Hasidic Jewish movement, struck two Guyanese children in Crown Heights. One child died, and unfounded allegations quickly swirled that Jewish-operated ambulances had abandoned the child to treat Lubavitchers in the vehicle. A crowd formed and quickly turned violent, kicking off what would be four days of violence against the Lubavitcher community.


That pull is no less strong today. From "mostly peaceful protests" to Hunter Biden's laptop being erroneously labeled "Russian disinformation" to treating the potential that COVID-19 leaked from a Wuhan laboratory as a baseless "conspiracy theory," problematic frames are just as intractable today as then. Journalism's problems, while diminished, haven't been remedied.

The last 18 months have seen American cities shaken by riots reminiscent of the violence in 1991. Race has once again been at the center of the conversation surrounding those events, and surely will be in future episodes. If journalism can't shake the ghosts of Crown Heights, the public won't be able to fully understand what's going on for years to come—if they ever can.


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