Members of The New York Initiative patrol the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The group is trying to stop “the knockout game.” Photo Courtesy: Facebook Page of New York Initiative
Last month in East New York, a 75-year-old woman was sucker punched in the back of the head and she fell to the ground. Just a few days ago, a 20-year-old woman was attacked while walking on Flatbush Avenue. Nearly a dozen cases of attacks have been reported in Brooklyn.
The police of course, have taken note. And some citizen groups have too.
The Crown Heights Shomrim, an organization of Jewish civilian volunteers that has been combating burglary, assault, and anti-Semitic attacks, has doubled its patrol in the past weeks. “From four patrol cars, there are now eight roaming the neighborhood 24/7,” said Gadi Heihakop, one of the members.
Heihakop said his group responded to a call of a victim just a few days ago. “We had a call that a guy walked by him and tried to punch him but he got away,” he said. We went to the location but they got inside the car and drove away.” Heihakop called the police and gave the license plate number and description of the vehicle. He said the gang was a group of teenagers whose ages ranged from 17 to 18. “They should stop doing it and just go about their own business,” he said.
Another group that has stepped in to defend Brooklynites is The New York Initiative, a group of martial artists, some of whom are from Brooklyn. NYI has been patrolling Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. The group has a certain showbiz flair. Its members were tagged as real life super heros and features in a HBO documentary in 2011. Every member wears a Kevlar vest and other protective gears. Each member has a superhero alias. The NYI also patrols Greenwich Village to try to stop the mugging of gay people.
Chris Rambo, a.k.a Snipers, a member of NYI, said that the knockout game has been happening all over the city. “Its horrible and stupid. A lot of people who do this are ignorant and don’t live for tomorrow,” Rambo said. The NYI posted flyers with photos and descriptions of assailants caught on video, and phone numbers that civilians can call to report sightings. But Brown said some of the flyers the group posted have been torn down. Brown said NYI’s goal is to protect the neighborhood. But they never engage in a fight. He said the group always calls the police if they encounter an incident.
A legendary group of unarmed crime patrollers has also heeded the call of victims.
The Guardian Angels, who have been around the streets of New York for 35 years is focusing on Brooklyn. In their trademark red berets, the group has increased its presence in East New York, Borough Park, Williamsburg, and Midwood. Founder Curtis Sliwa said that the knockout game is nothing new, that it has been in New York for the past few decades. “This is the third time I saw this. Every decade and each generation has its version,” he said. Sliwa said the police are having a hard time making arrests because witnesses never emerge. He said, “Snitches gets stiches and ends in ditches,” is what the attackers say, and they threaten people planning to tip off the police. Sliwa posed a challenged to the attackers. “If you plan to knock someone out, we are happy to substitute for an old person.” He said. “ But we will punch back.”
Aside from patrols, Gary Moskowitz — a rabbi who is also a 7th degree black belter and a former cop — is encouraging people to take up martial arts. Moskowitz said learning to defend oneself is empowering. He said he disagrees with reports that the Jews are the targets of the knockout game, or that this is a hate crime. “Attackers prey on the weak and some of the Jews look weak,” Moskowitz said. He thinks that the knockout game is a form of gang initiation for new members. He said when he was still a cop back in the 1980s this game has its own version. “It’s called knockout the cop before,” he said.
But Moskowitz has a different approach to solving the problem. He said that teenagers who participate in this game come from dysfunctional families. “Most of them grew up with single parents working all the time and have no time for their child,” he said. Moskowitz said that instead of threatening the attackers, people should offer them help. “They need a support system,” he said.