Reaction To Crown Heights Court Ruling
January 9, 2002
By Michael D. Roberts
Five years after he was convicted in Federal Court of violating the civil rights of slain rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, during the 1991 Crown Heights riots, Lemrick Nelson, 27, is set to have his case re-heard in court after a federal appeals court overturned the conviction claiming that the trial judge erred in the process of jury selection. As the fall-out from this stunning and unexpected decision sunk home, both sides of the divide, Blacks and Jews, have expressed cautious optimism that things would not get out of hand, although there is some bitterness and anger over the court's decision from the supporters of the Rosenbaum family.
Caribbean American leaders have reacted swiftly to the decision, and attorneys for Nelson, who was 16 years at the time of the killing, and Charles Price, 47, his co-defendant, have publicly stated that they will go to court to try and make bail for both men now held in two separate federal prisons. Nelson, who is Trinidadian, has served 51/2 years of a 191/2 year sentence in Atlanta, while Price is doing a 22 year stint in another southern prison.
"We must respect and abide by in the decision of the courts because I believe that ultimately our system of justice works. This is a very difficult decision for two families - the Rosenbaums and the Nelsons - who have been torn apart by this terrible deed. Our nation is based on the rule of law, and no matter how difficult and how many wounds are reopened and rubbed raw, we must respect our judicial system and our courts," said Councilwoman Yvette D. Clarke.
Ms. Clarke added that there were no winners or losers in this issue since both families are still hurting. She said that she was confident that the strides made in building and fostering a better relationship between Blacks and Jews in Crown Heights will continue because it was in the common interests of both communities.
"In the painful aftermath of the Crown Heights riots, and the death of Yankel Rosenbaum, both communities have worked very hard to build and develop better working relationships. A lot of progress has been made these past years, and I believe that the firm foundation that was laid will allow these two important communities to deal with the court's decision in a mature fashion. After all this is about judicial checks and balances and an effort to make sure decisions in our courts are arrived fairly and in keeping with the law," Ms. Clarke added.
Roy Hastick, president of the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI) said that the reasons given by the court for overturning the conviction of Lemrick Nelson and Charles Price did not say or mean that they were innocent. He said that this was a fundamental distinction because the appellate court had difficulty in how the jury was impaneled and its composition.
'In essence the appellate court was saying that the principle and right to a fair trial for a defendant or any defendant must be upheld and if there was anything that precluded that right then a new trial must be held. That's all I read in the decision. It's not about innocence or guilt but about the process. We have to respect the wisdom of the court no matter how painful for some and at the same time others should not rejoice in this ruling - it did not say that the defendant was innocent,' Hastick noted.
Rabbi Daniel Botnick, a leader in the Crown Heights Jewish community and a member of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council told Carib News that what needed to be published were not all the opinions about the court's decision but the 'tremendous progress that the Crown Heights community has made in the last 10 years. "Botnick said that this progress was 'beyond anybody's dream" and that this was the real story of Crown Heights in the year after the 1991 riots.
"This is an incredible example of people of diverse backgrounds, who don't compromise their cultures, but who live together in peace. One example of this new spirit of cooperation and dialogue is Project CARE that is a coalition of African and Caribbean Americans, Jewish leaders, and other members of the community who meet regularly to discuss concerns and issues that affect the community. Their work has just been exemplary," Rabbi Botnick said.
And Richard Green, Director of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, said that he felt that the appellate court in reaching its decision had looked at the case from a legalistic point of view. However, he pointed out that the courts should not be the sole tool to bring about racial unity.