Brother of man killed in 1991 Crown Heights riots reflects on 25th anniversary

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CROWN HEIGHTS, Brooklyn – Norman Rosenbaum remembers the 1991 riots in Crown Heights vividly, “the fact that 25 years has come to pass is very hard to come to grips with,” he told PIX11 News.

His brother Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jewish Rabbinical student, was stabbed to death during the height of the racial tensions.

“The same numbness from when the family first heard is very much at the forefront today and it has been everyday in between.” Rosenbaum said.

Rosenbaum was an apparent innocent bystander when he was stabbed in retaliation. All this rampage began when a Hasidic driver jumped the curb, killing a 7-year-old black child.

“The fact that it was an Semitic race riot – we couldn’t relate to it at all,” Rosenbaum said. “And certainly, we thought it was people just embellishing a tragedy.”

The deaths of 7-year-old Gavin Cato and then 29-year-old Rosenbaum sparked three long days of riots, looting and arson. On these Brooklyn blocks, no one was safe.

Four officers were hurt. They were hit with rocks and glass. The mob yelling their anger with the mayor.

PIX11 this summer was there when residents held a unity walk along the same Crown Heights avenues that were once scarred by violence.

But what has changed?

“Regretfully here’s still incidents from time to time of violence and racist inspired violence,” Rosenbaum said. “But I think overall there’s a greater alertness and awareness of what can give rise to violence.”

For Rosenbaum, this tense moment in Brooklyn history offered a real life, timeless lesson inspired by the brother he loved and lost.

“The sad irony is that he was a person that fought for people’s rights,” he said.

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