25 Years Later, Crown Heights Continues to Heal

Photo courtesy of TheJewishWeek.com.

This post is brought to you by Paula L. Sanders, a dedicated and long-serving member of the Commission's Community Relations Bureau, in commemoration of the Crown Heights riots 25 years ago. The Commission's work fostering mutual respect and understanding among Brooklyn's diverse communities played a significant role in brokering peace following the riots, and the Commission's ongoing work continues to make New York a better place to live today.

By Paula L. Sanders

Twenty-five years ago, I watched as the streets of Crown Heights erupted in unrest--cars flipped, businesses burned, and voices raised in anger following the tragic deaths of seven-year-old Gavin Cato, hit and killed by a car, and the stabbing death of college student Yankel Rosenbaum.

I watched and I listened to concerned mothers and fathers, students, and neighbors from both the West Indian and Hasidic community who worried that not enough was being done to protect their safety or address the racial and social disparities in their communities.

Over those tough three days and weeks that followed, my colleagues at the NYC Commission on Human Rights and I took to the streets to speak with community members about their concerns, calm their fears, and offer any assistance we could to help heal their pain.

We also met with groups like the Jewish Community Council and Crown Heights Youth Collective to chart a path forward and create programs that promote respect for the neighborhood's cultural and religious differences.

Twenty-five years later, those wounds continue to heal. And the NYC Commission on Human Rights is still there in community, in Crown Heights and across Brooklyn, offering resources to make sure people feel safe, respected, and empowered to live and work free from discrimination.

The NYC Commission on Human Rights exists to protect every New Yorker from discrimination. We are a city agency that enforces the nation's strongest city anti-discrimination law, the NYC Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace, housing, and in public spaces.

We work with immigrant groups and churches, synagogues, and mosques, landlords, bodegas, and law enforcement to ensure that everyone in New York City knows their rights and obligations under the law and are protected from unfair treatment no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they believe.

Our doors are always open. If you or someone you know has experienced discrimination, call 311 and ask for the Commission on Human Rights. The Commission is staffed with committed public servants who speak at least 26 different languages representing the diversity of New York City. They are ready to hear your story and help you understand your rights. Or stop by 25 Chapel Street, Suite 1001, to speak to a staff member at our Brooklyn Community Service Center.

You can also meet us at the One Crown Heights event this weekend. Commission staff will join elected officials, faith leaders, advocates, and community members at events throughout the day that bring together every community in Crown Heights and celebrate the steps communities have taken to understand and appreciate the diversity of the neighborhood. Commission staff will be on hand to talk about the Commission and resources available to the community.

Everyone in New York City deserves the same respect and opportunity as everyone else, no matter who they are. We are a much stronger city when we celebrate those differences instead of letting them divide us.

Paula L. Sanders is Associate Human Rights Specialist in the Brooklyn Office of the NYC Commission on Human Rights.