“Crowds and the People Inside Them,” by Alpha Unit

New Alpha Unit. This post is about the anti-Jewish Crown Heights riots in New York when mobs of Blacks rampaged through the streets, sometimes yelling, “Heil Hitler” and attacking the Orthodox Jews who lived there. There is a lot of resentment towards Orthodox Jews in New York.

As a Dominican friend of mine who lived there once said, “They’re tight and they treat non-Jews like shit.”Unfortunately, that’s a pretty accurate portrayal of Orthodox Jews in New York.

Orthodox Jews were the landlords of his building and the other buildings around there.

He spent a lot of time investigating the auctions that the city of New York had every year to lease out city property. After intensely studying the issue for a long time, he finally came away convinced that the auctions were rigged. During the tenure of Mike Bloomberg, my friend said that 70% of the auctions were closed bids, and all went to Jewish bidders. Bloomberg was waging ethnic warfare for the Jews against the non-Jews on New York in a fraudulent and corrupt bidding process.

When a Catholic, Rudy Giuliani, came in, the situation reversed. Now 70% of the bids were closed bids going to Catholics, typically Italians, but also Dominicans and others. The Jews and Catholics of New York were waging a totally corrupt, Third World style ethnic warfare on each other all the way from the very top down.

He said the Orthodox Jewish landlords were well known as slumlords. They never fixed anything and they, in general, treated non-Jews like crap. That’s not necessarily a slam at Jews in general, but it’s a slam at the Orthodox. The classic anti-Semitic stereotypes are most prominently displayed in the often racist behavior of the Orthodox. In my experience, the more assimilated and less religious the Jew, the less these classic stereotypes and racist behaviors are evident.

During the Crown Heights riots, the Blacks were said to be angry about the Orthodox Jews buying up property in their neighborhood. Black anti-Semitism is a new thing, and it’s very complex. I don’t pretend to understand it well, and an analysis of it goes beyond the scope of this post. A lot of this stems from Jews running stores in the ghettos where they charged high prices and were often overtly suspicious of Black customers or treated them poorly.

The high prices are possibly due to the costs of running a ghetto store. Due to high crime, security needs and large-scale theft of merchandise probably add to the cost of doing business. Blacks are treated suspiciously in ghetto stores frankly because so many of them steal, act bad and sometimes do even worse things.

High levels of ghetto-TNB (Typical Negro Behavior)* lead to ghetto store owners treating all, most or many Black customers poorly. The treatment is probably reciprocated. It’s important to note that not just Jews have been guilty of this behavior. First Jews, then Koreans, Arabs, East Indians and other ethnics have run ghetto stores. Many have packed up and left due to high theft or violent crime.

The Jewish behavior above has been mirrored precisely by all of the other groups running these stores.

It was against this background that the lamentable and tragic Crown Heights riots occurred. Many Jews still smart when they think of these riots.

*A sarcastic, humorous, and not altogether true, expression for the worst stereotypical Black behaviors. The word “nigger” is usually substituted for “Negro,” but I’m trying to avoid being offensive here. I don’t think that “TNB” really is typical Black behavior, or at least I hope not. It’s mostly just a snide synonym for “ghetto” behaviors.

When in crowds, people do things that they wouldn’t do if alone. A crowd is a kind of organism with a life and death of its own.

The saying goes that there is safety in numbers. There’s also danger sometimes.

I’ve never cared for being in crowds myself. Once when I was eighteen, back in the late seventies, I went to a concert with some friends – it may have been my first time going to a concert. They were two friends I had made my first semester in the dorm.

I liked the concert – I think it was Bruce Springsteen – but I remember being separated from them afterward for some reason. Being in large crowds is overstimulating as it is for me, so I was trying not to be too frustrated while trying to get past all these people and scanning the entire place for their faces.

And then I saw one of them. She saw me, too. I was still finding my way down from my seat, and she was standing in the middle of the arena floor. She raised one of her arms high so I wouldn’t lose sight of her. And she kept her arm raised the entire time I made my way down.

When I finally got to her, she smiled, like it had been no big thing. She really was one of the nicest people I ever met, although I think another reason she was so mellow is that she was high. I just know that if she hadn’t done what she did, it might have taken forever to find her. Or I might have given up trying to.

My instinct is to get the hell out of a crowd as soon as I can. And this is why I don’t understand why people will mill around in a crowd even when it’s obvious that something really bad is either about to happen or has just happened.

People who study crowd psychology note that one of the things that happens to you in a crowd is a loss of individuality. This may sound obvious, but it can have serious ramifications. Once something bad starts to go down in a crowd, who you actually are ceases to matter, in a way. You are essentially anonymous.

If two sides, for example, are going at it in a crowd, there is a strong likelihood that you are going to be seen as “one of them.” It might not matter that you are just an innocent bystander. If you’re perceived to be “one of them,” you might get hurt. Or, in your sudden anonymity, no one will really care who you are. You could get hurt just being in the way. Once a crowd is in this state of arousal, you are in danger.

Some of the people who’ve been tear-gassed or beaten by police during riots weren’t rioters. They were innocent people caught up in that situation. They were reporters, some of them, there to record the event. Once police batons start flailing, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were if you are perceived to be a part of some unruly mass.

Some of those hurt or killed during the student protest at Kent State University in 1970 weren’t protesting. They were kids going to or from class. The bullets flying that day didn’t make any distinctions.

Back in 1992, Reginald Denny was an innocent guy driving a truck when he pulled up to an intersection in Los Angeles, where, unbeknownst to him, there was a riot in progress. The rioters attacked the truck, then dragged him out of it and beat him nearly to death. It didn’t matter who he was to his assailants. He was “one of them.”

Something else working against you in a situation like this is “diffusion of responsibility.” If people are inclined to engage in antisocial acts and are surrounded by like-minded individuals, the odds are in favor of antisocial behavior. Everybody is familiar with this; it happens in lynch mobs and other kinds of spontaneous groupings.

The flip side of diffusion of responsibility is that if you do get hurt in a crowd, there is a very good chance that those who witnessed it won’t come to your aid. Not because they’re just cold-blooded human beings, but because they’re actually going to be unsure if they should! They’re going to be checking everybody else’s reactions to tell them whether or not it’s a good idea for them to get involved.

Two little black kids were accidentally struck by an out-of-control car back in August of 1991, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. One of them was killed. The car, part of a motorcade, had been driven by a young Jewish man.

So now we’ve got the Blacks and the Jews. In a predominantly Black neighborhood where resentment toward Jews is reportedly on the rise.

What followed was entirely predictable. The driver of the out-of-control vehicle was dragged out of his car and beaten. An angry crowd gathered. Stuff was thrown, and other stuff was vandalized.

Things escalated over the next several days. More vandalism and looting. People got injured, many of them police. An innocent bystander, Yankel Rosenbaum, was beaten and killed.

Is there anything that could have happened after those children were struck that might have caused all of this to turn out differently?

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10 thoughts on ““Crowds and the People Inside Them,” by Alpha Unit”

  1. Another thing that added to the anger of the black people was that a ambulance that was owned and used by the jewish community picked up the jewish guy who hit the black kid with his car while leaving the bleeding kid he hit with his car on the street to be picked up by a city ambulance(the kid died). The jewish ambulance workers claimed that the situation was very chaotic and they were afraid of the crowd. It’s possible they feared for their safety but at the same time wouldn’t have been attacked for taking a bleeding kid to the hospital.

  2. good point Patrick. i had forgotten about that part of the story.

    i live in crown heights, techically. the street i live on is the border between Crown Heights and Prospect Heights. the later being a white neighborhood, the former being a black and brown neighborhood. there are little pockets where the two mix but that’s a pretty good description.

    i think the the edge of Crown Heights is being infiltrated by the whites. they recently put up condos around the corner from me, in the Crown Heights direction.

    i wonder what kind of resentment is building up with this situation and given the incredibly shithole economy of NYC. people are really really getting squeezed. they obviously do not want poor people to live anywhere in this city, i think sometimes.

  3. Crowds are a very scary phenomenon. For some reason when I was younger, as in 3 or 4 years ago, they didn’t bother me so much but now they are probably what I fear most when I am going home late at night.

    I live in Boston and there was a big crowd gathering when the Red Sox won the world series. My friends and I were all in art school then and, suffice to say, not exactly sports fans. We went down to the crowd because it was more of a Boston thing than a sports thing at that point. The crowd was rowdy but very jovial and all hanging out in the middle of the street about a block from Fenway Park. The riot cops were there to keep order but were just lined up paitently waiting for orders. During one of games leading up the world series there had been a similar crowd outpouring afterward and a nervous riot cop shot one of those beanbag things into the crowd and hit a girl in the face and killed her. There was outrage to be sure but it seemed rather subdued for what I considered outright murder from some zealous cop. At the crowd gathering I was at, I secretly hoped someone would take that anger out at the cops, though if the shit did go down I would’ve ran right home. Nothing happened that night, the cops charged the crowd in a show of force simply to drive people back and then most people went home. Other people stayed and there was some bogus standoff but there was no violence. Basically the cops waited until the yahoos got tired and then everyone went to bed.

    Now, when I am going home from work or wherever on the train and a large group gets out from a sports game I get really nervous. Maybe because I fear the Us (sports fans) versus Others mentality or because I generally consider people who get really worked up at sports games to be pretty low on the intelligence scale.

  4. i think some of the violence comes from the sense of anonymity you have when you’re a part of a crowd. the more you feel a part of it (the crowd), the more distant you feel from your individual self. it might not even take that many people to evoke this sort of feeling. maybe five is enough, two is not, three is not…but maybe it only takes a small number…smaller than you think.

  5. To Patrick:

    The Jewish ambulance workers claimed that the situation was very chaotic and they were afraid of the crowd. It’s possible they feared for their safety but at the same time wouldn’t have been attacked for taking a bleeding kid to the hospital.

    1) The Jewish ambulance was advised by NYPD not to take the first kid to the hospital.

    2) The second Jewish ambulance did give first aid to the second kid until the city ambulance arrived.
    (She lived..)

    3) The time from the first Jewish ambulance arrived to when the first kid was picked up by the city ambulance and later declared DOA at the hospital was a total of 8 minutes. It sounds as if his injuries were so bad he would have not have survived in any case.

  6. What followed was entirely predictable. The driver of the out-of-control vehicle was dragged out of his car and beaten. An angry crowd gathered. Stuff was thrown, and other stuff was vandalized.
    Things escalated over the next several days. More vandalism and looting.

    I suppose one could argue that race riots (almost all of which had White antagonists…) before 1940 were predictable but I would argue that Whites were given license to riot because there was racial animosity which was spread openly and little punishment for rioting. I would apply the same conditions that lead up to the Crown Heights Riots.

    Just as an FYI, you mentioned Mayor Bloomberg when likely you meant Mayor Koch… also David Dinkins (who’s Black..) was mayor during the Crown Heights riots.

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