The Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, N.Y., began on this day in 1991. The impetus behind the racially charged three-day event was the death of seven-year-old Gavin Cato at the hands of a Hasidic Jewish man, Yosef Lifsh.
Lifsh was driving a station wagon following a motorcade for Lubavitcher Hasidic leader Rabbi Menachem Schneerson when he hit another car and drove onto a sidewalk. Cato and his seven-year-old cousin, Angela, were playing on the sidewalk and fixing a bike chain.
Lifsh’s vehicle crushed them both although reports say he tried to lift the car off the children. Accounts conflict but it has been reported that Lifsh was assaulted by an angry group of Black men before the arrival of Jewish-run ambulance service.
Lifsh was taken by the private service while the Cato children were sent to local hospitals in a separate ambulance. A rumor that the dying boy was ignored by the Jewish medical team spread quickly angering the Black community. Tensions between the Blacks and Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights were already simmering and Cato’s death generated the anger that led to the riots.