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Sitting Ducks

New criminal-justice reforms combined with restrictive gun laws are making it impossible for Jews to be safe in New York

Liel Leibovitz
December 29, 2019
Photo: Kena Betancurk/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo: Kena Betancurk/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo: Kena Betancurk/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo: Kena Betancurk/AFP via Getty Images)

Jewish blood is cheap.

Another horrific anti-Semitic hate crime against New York’s Jewish community has left at least five people injured, this time in Monsey, New York, where a masked invader armed with a machete attacked the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, a religious leader of the local Jewish community whose house served as a center of communal prayer.

How to stop local pogromists from smashing, beating, stabbing, and shooting Jews—like yesterday’s attack in Monsey, or last week’s murderous assault in Jersey City, New Jersey—is not a question most American Jews imagined we’d ever have to seriously entertain. But it is now a matter of life or death.

One thing that is clear is that the familiar avenues that our community has relied upon, namely the city’s Democratic political establishment, law enforcement, and the courts, are no longer working to protect us. Instead, they are encouraging more attacks, and escalating the violence against our community.

To understand how, consider the case of Tiffany Harris. Last Friday, she walked up to three Orthodox Jewish women on a Brooklyn street and began punching them as she shouted anti-Semitic slurs. When the cops picked her up, Harris didn’t bother denying the accusations. “Yes, I slapped them,” she said. “I cursed them out. I said, ‘F-U, Jews.’”

Harris was brought before a judge, and not for the first time. According to the New York Post, she has an open harassment and assault case against her from last November, and just last month failed to make an appearance in court for another felony criminal mischief charge. But the prosecutors in her case this time around didn’t even bother asking for bail: On Jan. 1 a new law will take effect that will prohibit judges from setting bail for defendants accused of certain, mostly nonviolent, crimes.

“The de Blasio administration has made it clear that we all need to get into compliance with bail reform now,” a law enforcement source told the Post. “If prosecutors had asked for bail, corrections would release them immediately.”

The law’s defenders are hailing de Blasio’s new sentencing guidelines as a shining example of criminal-justice reform. In reality, it’s a noxious example of a misguided policy that allows progressive politicians to signal their virtue while leaving minorities—Jews first and foremost—exposed to assaults without consequence, which encourage more assaults against defenseless targets. In the past two weeks, New York, which boasts the largest Jewish population of any city in the world, has witnessed 10 violent attacks against Jews, yet the perpetrators, like Harris, were all let go, grinning and unrepentant.

Letting violent, hate-filled bigots walk free to commit more violent hate crimes as a matter of public policy is the definition of insanity. It’s evil. In practice, it seems, “criminal justice reform” and condemning “police occupation” are euphemisms for sacrificing the safety of real, live Jews on the altar of progressive claptrap.

Anyone wishing to keep Jews safe and fight anti-Semitism must first make sure that anti-Semitic attackers pay full price for violent bigotry. Yet New York’s progressive politicians, alongside a host of left-leaning Jewish organizations, have spent the last 24 hours releasing blustery general statements condemning the attack in Monsey while continuing to blame “white nationalism” for the plague of anti-Semitic violence that is killing Jews in our communities.

Nothing could be more toxic and counterproductive than this kind of politically motivated redescription of the wave of hate-fueled violence that is turning New York into Kishinev. If you can’t clearly and forthrightly call for the perpetrators of violent anti-Semitic hate crimes to be punished to the full extent of the law, and for Jews to be protected by the force of law on the streets where they are now regularly being battered, then you are not a friend of the Jewish community—or a foe of anti-Semites. You are aiding and abetting violent hate crimes.

And so, if the local Democratic Party and the criminal justice system are no longer interested in protecting Jews, might we at least be permitted to defend ourselves? In New York City, sadly, the answer to this question is no.

Buying an illegal firearm in New York City is no more difficult than procuring MDMA, say, or any other illegal substance. But those of us who wish to be legally armed—to protect ourselves, maybe, against violent anti-Semites like Tiffany Harris, who is currently free to roam the streets and continue to assault Jews, or the Black Hebrews, whose ranting against “fake Jews” resulted in six deaths in Jersey City—are out of luck.

New York City’s ordinances make obtaining and carrying a firearm nearly impossible for law-abiding civilians from communities that are under daily attack. Generally speaking, the city differentiates between several categories of gun permits. The first, and most popular, is a premise license, which allows its holder to keep a firearm in his or her place of business or residence. That is nice, except the anti-Semitic hate crime wave targeting New York’s Jews isn’t happening inside people’s homes. It’s happening on the streets.

Though now challenged in court, the laws pertaining to transporting firearms remain draconian, making it impossible for Jews—or anyone else for that matter—to have a means of self-defense when attacked in the street, at a park, at a Hanukkah party, or anywhere else. If you do obtain such a license, the current law requires you to carry the weapon and ammunition separately, and for both to be locked.

Another type of permit is a business-carry license, which applies only to individuals who need armed protection due to the circumstances of their work—carrying around bagfuls of diamonds, say, or possessing large amounts of cash. A third is a carry license designed primarily for security guards, retired cops, and a few privileged, high-profile individuals. In 2011, for example, only 4,000 New Yorkers enjoyed this sort of license, the only one that makes it possible to carry a weapon everywhere irrespective of one’s immediate business considerations.

Add to that the convoluted application process, the steep registration fee, and the discrepancy of the NYPD to refuse a license at will and for any reason it deems fit and the fullness of the paradox becomes clear. If you are a Jew in New York, the police—at the direction of the city’s politicians—can no longer offer you full protection from violent attack. If you are attacked, the courts will set your attacker free, as a matter of public policy. But exercising your constitutional right to defend yourself is forbidden.

New York’s progressive politicians, alongside a host of left-leaning Jewish organizations like the ADL, have spent the last 24 hours releasing statements condemning the attack in Monsey. These statements are utterly meaningless unless followed by concrete action. Anyone wishing to keep Jews safe must first make sure that anti-Semitic attackers are held responsible for their violent acts of hatred, and then help amend the laws and allow Jews the right of self-protection.


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Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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