Laurie Cumbo, New York City Council member-elect in the 35th District which covers the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, linked African Americans' fear of being “pushed out of their homes” by “Jewish landlords” to the recent spate of anti-Semitic violence called “the knock-out game.” A Jewish leader said, in response, that her statement was inappropriate and could be misunderstood as excusing violence.
In a statement Tuesday, Cumbo explained that her thoughts on the origin of the "Knock Out Game" came “from a place of wanting to get to the heart of the matter, as uncomfortable as that might be for many.”
“As I campaigned throughout the primary season, I knocked on the doors of thousands of Jewish and African American/Caribbean residents in Crown Heights,” Cumbo wrote. “Through those interactions, it was brought to my attention by many of the African American/Caribbean residents that perhaps the relationship between the two communities is not as great as it is currently perceived to be by the leadership. At the meeting, I shared that many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes.
“I relayed these sentiments at the forum not as an insult to the Jewish community, but rather to offer possible insight as to how young African American/Caribbean teens could conceivably commit a 'hate crime' against a community that they know very little about.
“I admire the Jewish community immensely,” she added. “I am particularly inspired by the fact that the Jewish community has not assimilated to the dominant American culture, and has preserved their religious and cultural values while remaining true to themselves. I respect and appreciate the Jewish community's family values and unity that has led to strong political, economic and cultural gains. While I personally regard this level of tenacity, I also recognize that for others, the accomplishments of the Jewish community triggers feelings of resentment, and a sense that Jewish success is not also their success.”
One Jewish leader commended Cumbo for her truthfulness, but rejected her line of thinking.
Yaacov Behrman, Executive Director of the Jewish Future Alliance, admitted in a response that Crown Heights is facing an affordable housing crisis. “Rent for apartments are skyrocketing and there simply aren't enough apartments to fit the community's growing need. Furthermore, some landlords seem to feel they can mistreat tenants due the fact that there are waiting lists for apartments. This affects members of the Jewish, African American, and Yuppie communities equally. We disagree with the view that one group of people are being treated better than another group of people.
"We applaud Councilmember-elect Laurie Cumbo for being candid and bringing these perceptions to the attention of community leaders,” Behrman continued. “We also applaud her suggestion that more should be done to bring the youth of Crown Heights together. But the housing crisis and the idea of transcending cultural boundaries among community youth has no place in a discussion of the Knock Out Game. To address this subjects in a discussion of the current violence our community is not only inappropriate, it also can be misunderstood as excusing the violence.”