Community members outraged by the beating and arrest of 21-year-old Ehud Halevi by NYPD officers have announced they will hold a demonstration on Friday at 2:00 p.m., from the Jewish Children's Museum on Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue and march to the 71st Precinct on Empire Blvd.
The demonstration, "Justice for Ehud," is in response to an incident caught on video last Monday showing two 71st Precinct officers battering Halevi about his head and body with their fists and a baton after Halevi refused to leave an outreach center for troubled youth in Crown Heights.
The police officers were responding to a call by a center volunteer worker who believed Halevi was homeless and loitering inside of the center. It was later discovered that Halevi had permission to be at the center.
Halevi was arrested and charged with a felony count of assault on police officers and three misdemeanors: resisting arrest, obstruction and criminal trespass. He was issued violations for marijuana possession and harassment, court records show.
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, State Senator Eric Adams and other elected officials, along with several community leaders at a press conference on Monday called the incident police brutality resulting in a wrongful arrest and demanded the charges are dropped.
New York civil rights and civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel has agreed to take on Halevi's case: "The officers exhibited unjustified excessiveness on my client resulting in a horrific experience that continues to have an effect on him," Siegel told COLlive.com.
One commenter on the "Justice for Ehud" Facebook page for the demonstration said, "Police need to know that they can not just go into a Synagogue, beat someone up, and than make a bunch of fake charges to cover up that fact.
"We have every right to question [police] behavior and have them fired if they break the law. This is one of the clearest cut cases of police brutality caught on tape in a long time."
The demonstration is a grassroots plan and not coordinated with any local officials or organizations. However, leaders in both the Jewish and African-American community have said they support the protest but have not confirmed their attendance with the exception of Attorney Siegel.
"There are dozens of community leaders that would like to be there, but the organizers want it to come across as a grassroots effort," said one of the organizers who identified himself as "Sam."
"We’re saying that these charges are bogus and [we are] demanding they are thrown out. And the other thing I want to point out is, had there been no video cameras, this guy, who is innocent, would have been sent to jail for 7-10 years."
NYPD announced on Monday it has begun an investigation into the incident while Officer Luis A. Vega, who is seen on the video repeatedly punching Halevi, has been placed on modified duty.
NYPD Spokesman Paul J. Browne said the Internal Affairs Bureau has also notified the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent body which investigates allegations of misconduct and abuse by police officers, according to the New York Times blog.
But the charges against Halevi still have not been dropped, and so community members plan to move forward with the demonstration.
However not everyone in the orthodox Jewish community of Crown Heights agrees with the demonstration, and some have said they do not plan to participate.
"The incident has already received extensive publicity, and the police and the district attorney are further investigating what happened," said Yaacov Behrman, a Crown Heights resident and community activist. "Perhaps the community should await the outcome of the investigation before engaging in any additional community action."
"Is a protest rally really necessary?" asked one Facebook commenter. "Might it just aggravate the police or get in the way of problem solving? I plan on being there. I'm just wondering if this is the best plan of action."
Another Facebook commenter added, "May I just point out that 2:00 p.m. on Friday is a bad time! We're all cooking for shabbat."
But according to Sam, the point of the demonstration is to raise pubic awareness of what he characterizes as a broken criminal justice system:
"There's this general consensus that the NYPD is the best in the world. But there’s something lacking. We need to put some controls in place. We need to change the courts that say that John Q Law is always to be believed over John Q Citizen."