New York City mayor appeals for racial, religious harmony in TV address

November 26, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- Mayor David N. Dinkins delivered an impassioned Thanksgiving eve appeal for greater racial understanding in New York City, declaring that neither black anti-Semitism nor Jewish racism can be tolerated.

"Our character as a people is being tested now," the mayor said yesterday. "Our city will not be divided."

"Race baiters and rabble rousers do not understand our lives," Mr. Dinkins added, in what advisers said was one of the most important speeches of his 3-year-old administration.

Mr. Dinkins' noontime televised address, which interrupted soap operas on some New York television channels, was structured to answer critics after a jury's decision last month acquitted a black teen-ager of killing a Hasidic Jew in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

It also was designed to show the mayor still possesses the leadership to keep racial peace -- a key issue as he prepares for what surely will be a bitter re-election campaign next year.

"I was elected to be the mayor of all our people. . . . I have never nor will I ever pander or cater to one group to permit it to gain an advantage over another group," Mr. Dinkins pledged. ". . . I will never use code words and subliminal messages to create mistrust between groups. I have never nor will I ever play favorites or pit one group against another for political advantage."

Mr. Dinkins has been the target of intense criticism in both phases of the Crown Heights incident.

The original riots erupted after a car in the entourage of a Hasidic Jewish spiritual leader went out of control and accidentally struck and killed a 7-year-old black child. Hours later, Hasidic scholar Yankel Rosenbaum was surrounded by angry blacks, beaten and fatally stabbed.

Some of Mr. Dinkins critics have argued in a federal lawsuit filed this month that the mayor -- a staunch supporter of Israel -- and his former police commissioner, who is also black, held back the police so that "anti-Semitic criminals" could attack the area's Jewish residents.

A teen-ager was tried on charges of killing Mr. Rosenbaum but, on Oct. 29, was acquitted. Critics then charged that Mr. Dinkins did not show sufficient outrage at the jury's verdict.

In his 10-minute address, the mayor responded angrily. "A few have suggested that someone made a political decision to deprive the people of Crown Heights of police protection," he said. "That charge is false, reprehensible and despicable."

At the same time, he accepted ultimate responsibility for an inadequate police response when the rioting first erupted.

"By their own accounts . . . the Police Department did make tactical errors in judgment and deployment of police officers in the early hours of the disturbance which may have delayed a return to normalcy," the mayor said.

"I know and I accept when a mistake is made that it is the mayor who is called to account," Mr. Dinkins said.

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