Lubavitcher Hasidim are believers in a branch of Judaism that “conveys the essence of the responsibility and love engendered by the Chabad philosophy toward every single Jew.” Popularized 250 years ago in Russia, the movement maintains a strong presence in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Racial tension between Crown Heights blacks and Hasidim led the Hasidim to create a patrol group in the mid-70s to “protect Jews from muggings, purse-snatchings and other depredations.” Black citizens considered the patrollers to be vigilantes who delighted in harassing non-Jews. Two violent incidents in the late 1970s seemed to bring matters to a head.
June 16, 1978: at least 20 Hasidic men beat 16-year-old Victor Rhodes into a 2-month coma. Rhodes had allegedly been taunting 25-year-old Lewis Brennan and 22-year-old Jonathan Hackner. They were the only 2 Hasidim apprehended for the assault.
October 25, 1979: Rabbi David Okunov, 68, was on his way to synagogue when Carl Miller, 19, allegedly stole Okunov’s prayer shawl and prayer book, shot him in the face, and ran away. Miller’s trial lasted 5 days in September 1980, and every day, the court was packed with Hasidim. Daryl Brown, 17, supplied key eyewitness testimony, but neither the prayer shawl and book, nor the weapon, were ever recovered. The jury took 9 hours over 2 days to reach a guilty verdict. Miller was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
After a 2-month trial, Brennan and Hackner were acquitted on February 28, 1980.