CROWN HEIGHTS — Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Crown Heights Friday just hours before the Sabbath to vent continuing outrage over the videotaped beating of 21-year-old Ehud Halevy at the hands of two officers from the 71st precinct earlier this month.
"If you would have closed your eyes, you would have thought you were talking about a group of African Americans or a group of Hispanics — now our Jewish brothers and sisters have joined us in saying we want safe streets, but we don’t want to b e brutalized and we don’t want to be treated unfairly," State Sen. Eric Adams told the crowd outside the 71st Precinct command on Empire Boulevard.
"It doesn’t matter if a young person is wearing a yarmulke or a Yankee’s baseball cap, police need to treat them with dignity and respect."
Demonstrators said they would not rest until charges were dropped against Halevy, who was arrested and charged with assault, trespass, resisting arrest, and harassment in connection with the Oct. 8 incident, during which a volunteer security guard allegedly found Halevy sleeping naked in the women's section of the ALIYA outreach center and synagogue and called police.
"People are shocked — they're at a loss for words," said protester Chaya Stern, 24. "There's a lot of fear it could happen again."
The precinct's top brass have rushed to calm those fears even as local elected officials call for the termination of Officer Luis Vega, who was caught on surveillance video repeatedly punching Halevy during the arrest. Vega has been put on desk duty pending further investigation.
"This is very shocking, and it can lead to an erosion of trust between the police and the community," Deputy Inspector John Lewis told residents at the precinct community council meeting Thursday. "We try to build trust because there are always going to be negative interactions with police and we have to do our best to garner trust within the community."
The demonstration drew more strollers than signs, and conversations between protesters and police were largely cordial, if strained. ALIYA's director Rabbi Moishe Feiglin even encouraged demonstrators to put on tefillin — religious articles worn by observant men during prayer — and pray briefly outside the station house.
"Aliya is committed to ensuring that its center will always remain a safe haven for young adults that need a place to go," Feiglin wrote to supporters on Facebook. "Ehud Halevi has been part of Aliya's family for the past month and his best interests have been and will continue to be our best interests."
The rabbi said he believed the crisis was part of a larger divine plan, and that justice would be served.
"Everything happens for a good reason and we’re going to see a good outcome come out of this," he told the crowd. "Please remember the police are here for our protection — a few bad apples does not spoil the pot.”