American Corner

Speaking with middle school and high school students in Biratnagar Nepal. This was part of a series of presentations I gave on minority rights in civil society at the behest of the US State Department in 2012. # Link in context

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CC BY-ND 4.0 Contact by Kim Pearson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. Hello Ms Kim
    I read your response to the post about the Crown Heights Lynching and while I respected how you tried to be diplomatic I find it necessary to point out hate crimes against African Americans are never taught in a way that give respect to “both sides” of the story. I find it incredibly biazarre that African Americans can rationalize this lynching by point out a young African American was killed in a car accident and that “set it off”. It’s the first (and I’m sure last) time African Americans equated a car accident to a violent racist murder. I am sure that black folks committ more than their share of car accidents! If someone points to murder or rape by a black person as a justification for a lynching, that person in called a vehemet racist. Yet black folks feel no shame at trying to explain a lynching by pointing to a car accident? Every lynch mob has it’s reason. If we are going to look at hate crimes BY black folks in a way that’s sympathic to the perpetrator and lets them tell their side of the story then it should also be done when blacks are the victim.

    • (First, I think this is what the writer is responding to. I also wrote about the same topic here


      I have taken some time to respond to this comment because I don’t know where to begin. If I understand you correctly, you are accusing me (or some unnamed set of “African Americans” of equating the accident that killed Gavin Cato with the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum. This reading of the events surrounding the tragedies that occurred in Brooklyn in 1991 includes several misstatements and logical fallacies, if I understand the documentary record correctly. For example:

      Before the accident occurred, there had been complaints by residents in the Crown Heights neighborhood about the speed with which the Rebbe’s motorcade raced through the neighborhood, according to some news reports.
      The failure of the leadership of the Lubavitcher congregation and the police to ensure that basic traffic safety rules were followed was taken by some residents as an indication that their concerns not taken seriously and that their need for safety was not respected.
      A spokesperson for the Lubavitchers disputes the residents account of the traffic safety problems before the accident, and says that the accident that killed Cato was a singular tragic occurrence.
      When the accident occurred, residents accused the Lubavitcher ambulance corps of attending to the Rebbe and his driver while ignoring the dying Gavin Cato and his seriously wounded cousin. The Lubavitchers dispute this account, saying that when their ambulance arrived, the city ambulance was already there. They also said that the driver tried to help save Cato.
      It would be inaccurate, demagogic and unhelpful to attribute any of these arguments to all of the Lubavitchers or all of the residents of Crown Heights who are of African descent. (I used that description instead of “African Americans” because many of the residents of that community are of Caribbean origin, and they do not necessarily call themselves African American.) Most residents of Crown Heights, as angry as they might have been about Gavin Cato’s death, were not out rioting. Nor were they condoning anyone’s murder. Similarly, most members of the Lubavitcher community understand the importance of driving safely.
      What African Americans who spoke about this issue were saying was that there were two needless deaths, both fueled by bigotry. In this analysis, Cato’s death wasn’t simply the result of a car accident; it was result of the privileging of the Rebbe’s desire to be sped through the neighborhood over the safety of the black neighbors. Rosenbaums’ death wasn’t simply an anti-Semitic murder; it was a malignant response to perceived injustices. I haven’t come across anyone claiming that the murder of Yankel Rosenabaum was justified.
      At the time that Fires in the Mirror was produced, no one had been convicted of the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum and the facts of the murder were in dispute. Lemrick Nelson, Jr., was acquitted of the murder in 1992. It is a testament to the tenacity of the Rosenbaum family that they pursued the case until Nelson’s guilt was finally determined in a 2003 retrial.

      Finally, it is heartening to note that the there have been meetings between the Cato and Rosenbaum families, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Ultimately the question is how we find ways to live together in communities where everyone feels respected.

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