A Murder in Miami

On a sunny Saturday morning last August, Rabbi Joseph Raksin was shot and killed by two young African American men as he walked to a synagogue in an unincorporated neighborhood in North Miami Beach.  Raksin was a Lubavitcher, a member of Chabad, the Chassidic sect with headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and was visiting his two daughters and seven grandchildren in South Florida.  The rabbi was dressed in the clothes male Chassidim wear on the Sabbath -- a beketshe, the long black silk coat, a black hat with a wide brim over his kippa, and black shoes.  He had the traditional full beard.  Raksin was unmistakably an Orthodox Jew.

Was the rabbi killed because he was Jewish?

The Miami-Dade police were quick to deny this.  A spokesperson for the department, Elena Hernandez, told reporters that afternoon that “there is no evidence this was a hate crime.”  Two days later, on August 11th, Major Hector Llevat repeated the line at a news conference.  He added that “we are not ruling anything out,” but a CBS reporter later claimed the police “are all but ruling this murder out as a hate crime.”

Local Jewish leaders supported this take on the killing.  Hava Holzhauer, head of the Miami office of the Anti-Defamation League said that the murder “appears to be a robbery that went badly.”  Some community members weren’t so sure, pointing out that a swastika and the word “Hamas” had been painted on the pillar of a nearby synagogue two weeks earlier.  But a rabbi speaking at the August 11 news conference was also unwilling to suggest Raksin may have been targeted because he was Jewish, and dismissed the importance of categorizing the killing as a “hate crime.” 

One local Jewish leader disagreed, and apparently with good reason.  Yona Lunger, the head of a neighborhood watch, Shmira Patrol, and of Chesad, a food bank and crisis intervention organization, told journalists that “there is one witness who wants to stay anonymous, and he watched two guys go up with a gun, kill the guy, and walk away smiling.”

This is the same individual, Lunger told me, who was mentioned in one CBS report as watching the killer and his companion walk off nonchalantly.  The witness is very concerned for his safety, and would not speak with me. 

A second man, Jean Louis Denes, also heard the shot, told his son to call 911, and rushed up to the rabbi.  “He was coming in and out of consciousness,” Denes told a CBS reporter, “and I talked a little bit to him.  He gave me his name that he was from New York and he told me two males were the people that did this.  I told him my name, I told him to stay quiet and that everything was going to be fine, and unfortunately it was different.”

According to Yona Lunger, the rabbi told Denes he’d been shot by two black men, but didn’t provide any details.  An emergency rescue team from the community was at the rabbi’s side within two or three minutes, but no one questioned him further.  It was not thought the wounds were fatal.   When Denes told the dispatcher that the rabbi was about 70, Raksin corrected him calmly, saying he was only 60.

A few observations:

1.  “Hate crime” is for many reasons an unfortunate concept.  Laws against “hate crime” are invidiously applied.  Far worse is its cousin “hate speech” regulations, which are invariably used as a cudgel to silence conservatives.  But in this context, “hate crime” is simply shorthand for killing an individual because he was Jewish, like the four rabbis murdered by jihadists in a Jerusalem synagogue on November 17th.

2.  From the accounts of the two witnesses, there is no evidence that the murder was the result of “a robbery gone wrong.”  According to Lunger, the first witness told police exactly what he himself had been told:  there was no confrontation and no struggle. 

3.  The rabbi did not tell Denes simply that “two males” had shot him.  But speaking on camera, the Good Samaritan felt constrained not to identify the race of the killers.  Needless to say, the local media also scrupulously avoided mentioning the unmentionable.  The perps were invariably described simply as “two males” or “two young males.”  Several accounts mentioned that one wore an orange shirt and the other a yellow shirt.  It was also reported that one ran away and the other escaped on a bike.  But otherwise the suspects were invisible.

There was one slip. In an early report, an African-American NBC News anchor mentioned that the suspects were “black males.”  The channel did not repeat the mistake.  With the exception of the Washington Times, the Jewish Press, and a few other conservative or Jewish sites, everyone complied with the blackout.

An editor at the Miami Herald, Rick Hirsh, explained his paper’s policy on the subject: 

For the Herald, the answer tilts on two key issues -- relevance to the crime and detail of description. 

On relevance, we typically would not specify the race of a suspect unless the crime itself appears to somehow be motivated by race. That was not was our reporting revealed from police, nor what the Anti-Defamation League believed back in August. 

On the issue of description, if there were details about the suspects that would help the public identify them -- height, weight, clothing, mannerisms, etc... -- race could be a part of that detailed description. But merely saying someone appeared to be black and XX height (or Hispanic, or Asian or white) in a metro area of our size does not in any way provide a meaningful description that could enable the public to identify a suspect. 

Readers can judge whether Hirsch’s criteria apply.

4.  As for the ADL, Holtzhauer explained what was on her mind:  “We try to fight stereotypes in general.”  She added, “In this case, the people have not been caught.  There was a major disregard for human life and we have no idea what was in their hearts and in their minds.”  The ADL did not bother contacting the victim’s family, either of the two witnesses, or Lunger.

Neither Holtzhauer nor the American Jewish Congress’s Brian Siegal would comment further on the case.  A spokesman for Holtzhauer referred me to the police department and Siegal declined to return phone calls.  The Greater Miami Jewish Federation also did not reply to emails.

5.  The “stereotype” the ADL director was worried about was the fact that African Americans commit a hugely disproportionate percentage of murders.  Between 1976 and 2005, African Americans, now 13.2% of the population, committed 52.2% of all murders.  They were nearly seven times as likely to kill as whites.

The vast majority of these killings are by black males age 15 to 25, less than 3% of the population.

Holzhauer probably had in mind a second “stereotype.”  According to the ADL’s own surveys, over 30% of African Americans hold views the organization considers antisemitic, as opposed to only 12% of Americans over-all. Given that the 12% figure includes Hispanics as well, 30% of whom are also antisemitic according to the ADL, this means that fewer than 5% of non-Hispanic whites are antisemitic.  African Americans are thus over six times more likely to be antisemitic than European-Americans, just as they are over six times as likely to kill.

***

Chasidim are obvious targets.  Before there was Ferguson, there was Crown Heights.  After the son of a Guyanese immigrant was accidentally killed by a car in the motorcade for the funeral of a Lubavitcher rabbi, blacks rioted for three days in August of 1991.  Crowds chanted “No justice, no peace” (déja écoute?) and “Death to the Jews.” On the first night, a rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, was stabbed and beaten to death by a group of about 20 blacks.  Two weeks after the riot, a white-bearded Italian businessman who had the misfortune to be wearing a dark business suit was shot to death by four African Americans as he sat in his car in Crown Heights.  The faux-Chasid was named Anthony Graziosi. 

Just the other week, Levi Rosenblatt, an Israeli student praying in a Crown Heights shul, was stabbed by a knife-wielding African American man who screamed, “I want to kill the Jews!”  The man had a bi-polar disorder, and was shot by police when he picked up the knife after putting it down.  But there are seven mosques in Brooklyn Calvin Peters could have chosen if he were so inclined.

It’s not only some African Americans for whom a black kaftan is a red flag.  If the victim had been a suave reform rabbi, a member in good standing of inter-faith councils, a man whose taste in clothes owed more to 21st century Paris than 19th century Bialystok, a man who didn’t have a full beard and an accent, the ADL and other mainstream Jewish organization may not have been so reticent, especially if the killers had been identified as white males.  And if the perps were also non-Muslims, we surely would have heard from the Southern Poverty Law Center as well.  

***

On August 15, Miami-Dade police announced they had surveillance video from homes in the neighborhood that contained “pertinent information” about the suspects.  Earlier in the week, the Jewish community in North Miami Beach had offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the suspects.

Then, on September 19, on the eve of the High Holidays, it appeared there was a break in the case.  Miami-Dade Police Director J. D. Patterson told a local reporter that “some of the people involved” in Rabbi Raksin’s death had been identified.  As only two men were responsible for the killing, the phrasing was a little curious, unless the murder was part of a conspiracy.

In another confusing statement, Patterson suggested that robbery may not have been the motive, even while he stoutly denied that Raksin had been killed because he was Jewish:  “No I don’t believe it was a hate crime, I definitely do not believe it was a hate crime.  I’m not even certain if it was completely a robbery, because I do know that based on the religious practices of the religion, they don’t even carry things of value.  Again I’m not really sure what it was, but it definitely was not a hate crime.”

Asked to comment on whether the killing was still not considered a hate crime, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department would say only that “it is classified as a homicide.”  He did not reply to a follow-up email.

***

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” wrote Martin Luther King from a Birmingham jail.  Nearly three months have passed since Patterson’s revelation and over four months since Raksin was killed. 

In high-profile murders by African Americans -- that is, when they kill middle-class whites -- the perpetrators are often apprehended soon after the crime.  Murderers are not too bright and frequently use the victim’s ATM card or credit cards, like the killers of UNC Student Body President Eve Carson and of Philadelphia epidemiologist Jeanne Calle.  But nothing was taken from Raksin.

Not too long ago, a good percentage of moral and law-abiding African Americans were willing to report murderers to the police, even when they were relatives and the victims were whites, and even when the whites were Jews.  There can be little doubt that this percentage has declined, thanks to the media-fuelled grievance industry and the media’s relentless demonization of Israel.

There might be another explanation:  the murder could have been part of a gang initiation rite.  Yona Lunger believes this is the case.   If so, it would explain the reluctance of anyone to come forward to identify the killers.  No one doubts the Bloods and Crips have informants within the police department and anyone collecting the $50,000 reward wouldn’t be anonymous for long.

But until the suspects are arrested, we won’t know if the rite called for the initiates to target a Jew.  There were other candidates in the vicinity without Orthodox garb.

The administration may fantasize about siccing the military on Tea Party activists, but it has been MIA in reducing gang violence, and the media always looks the other way -- even though most of the 400 to 500 murders each year in Obama’s home town are gang-related.  And no one wants to talk about MS-13 and the other Latino gangs while the President and compassionate Republicans work to create “a path to citizenship” for the nation’s illegal immigrants.

Whatever the motives of the killers, Jews going to synagogues in North Miami Beach during Chanukah will be walking in large groups and looking warily at approaching strangers.

***

The line peddled by the police and the ADL -- “a robbery gone wrong” -- always suggests that the victim unwisely resisted the well-intentioned, business-like robber and that there may have been a struggle for the weapon.

According to family and friends, Rabbi Raksin would have been the last person to do this.  “He was loving, caring, a good man,” said his son-in-law.

Knowing they can do nothing to bring him back or help apprehend his murderers, the family has decided on a quixotic campaign to honor Raksin, a man who “took Judaism very seriously.”  Starting in Key West, family members will be driving an RV across the country.  In each city, someone inside will be copying the Torah from beginning to end, and attempting to bring its “seven universal laws” to the attention of Jews and non-Jews alike.  They’ve set up a website, americastorah.com.

On a sunny Saturday morning last August, Rabbi Joseph Raksin was shot and killed by two young African American men as he walked to a synagogue in an unincorporated neighborhood in North Miami Beach.  Raksin was a Lubavitcher, a member of Chabad, the Chassidic sect with headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and was visiting his two daughters and seven grandchildren in South Florida.  The rabbi was dressed in the clothes male Chassidim wear on the Sabbath -- a beketshe, the long black silk coat, a black hat with a wide brim over his kippa, and black shoes.  He had the traditional full beard.  Raksin was unmistakably an Orthodox Jew.

Was the rabbi killed because he was Jewish?

The Miami-Dade police were quick to deny this.  A spokesperson for the department, Elena Hernandez, told reporters that afternoon that “there is no evidence this was a hate crime.”  Two days later, on August 11th, Major Hector Llevat repeated the line at a news conference.  He added that “we are not ruling anything out,” but a CBS reporter later claimed the police “are all but ruling this murder out as a hate crime.”

Local Jewish leaders supported this take on the killing.  Hava Holzhauer, head of the Miami office of the Anti-Defamation League said that the murder “appears to be a robbery that went badly.”  Some community members weren’t so sure, pointing out that a swastika and the word “Hamas” had been painted on the pillar of a nearby synagogue two weeks earlier.  But a rabbi speaking at the August 11 news conference was also unwilling to suggest Raksin may have been targeted because he was Jewish, and dismissed the importance of categorizing the killing as a “hate crime.” 

One local Jewish leader disagreed, and apparently with good reason.  Yona Lunger, the head of a neighborhood watch, Shmira Patrol, and of Chesad, a food bank and crisis intervention organization, told journalists that “there is one witness who wants to stay anonymous, and he watched two guys go up with a gun, kill the guy, and walk away smiling.”

This is the same individual, Lunger told me, who was mentioned in one CBS report as watching the killer and his companion walk off nonchalantly.  The witness is very concerned for his safety, and would not speak with me. 

A second man, Jean Louis Denes, also heard the shot, told his son to call 911, and rushed up to the rabbi.  “He was coming in and out of consciousness,” Denes told a CBS reporter, “and I talked a little bit to him.  He gave me his name that he was from New York and he told me two males were the people that did this.  I told him my name, I told him to stay quiet and that everything was going to be fine, and unfortunately it was different.”

According to Yona Lunger, the rabbi told Denes he’d been shot by two black men, but didn’t provide any details.  An emergency rescue team from the community was at the rabbi’s side within two or three minutes, but no one questioned him further.  It was not thought the wounds were fatal.   When Denes told the dispatcher that the rabbi was about 70, Raksin corrected him calmly, saying he was only 60.

A few observations:

1.  “Hate crime” is for many reasons an unfortunate concept.  Laws against “hate crime” are invidiously applied.  Far worse is its cousin “hate speech” regulations, which are invariably used as a cudgel to silence conservatives.  But in this context, “hate crime” is simply shorthand for killing an individual because he was Jewish, like the four rabbis murdered by jihadists in a Jerusalem synagogue on November 17th.

2.  From the accounts of the two witnesses, there is no evidence that the murder was the result of “a robbery gone wrong.”  According to Lunger, the first witness told police exactly what he himself had been told:  there was no confrontation and no struggle. 

3.  The rabbi did not tell Denes simply that “two males” had shot him.  But speaking on camera, the Good Samaritan felt constrained not to identify the race of the killers.  Needless to say, the local media also scrupulously avoided mentioning the unmentionable.  The perps were invariably described simply as “two males” or “two young males.”  Several accounts mentioned that one wore an orange shirt and the other a yellow shirt.  It was also reported that one ran away and the other escaped on a bike.  But otherwise the suspects were invisible.

There was one slip. In an early report, an African-American NBC News anchor mentioned that the suspects were “black males.”  The channel did not repeat the mistake.  With the exception of the Washington Times, the Jewish Press, and a few other conservative or Jewish sites, everyone complied with the blackout.

An editor at the Miami Herald, Rick Hirsh, explained his paper’s policy on the subject: 

For the Herald, the answer tilts on two key issues -- relevance to the crime and detail of description. 

On relevance, we typically would not specify the race of a suspect unless the crime itself appears to somehow be motivated by race. That was not was our reporting revealed from police, nor what the Anti-Defamation League believed back in August. 

On the issue of description, if there were details about the suspects that would help the public identify them -- height, weight, clothing, mannerisms, etc... -- race could be a part of that detailed description. But merely saying someone appeared to be black and XX height (or Hispanic, or Asian or white) in a metro area of our size does not in any way provide a meaningful description that could enable the public to identify a suspect. 

Readers can judge whether Hirsch’s criteria apply.

4.  As for the ADL, Holtzhauer explained what was on her mind:  “We try to fight stereotypes in general.”  She added, “In this case, the people have not been caught.  There was a major disregard for human life and we have no idea what was in their hearts and in their minds.”  The ADL did not bother contacting the victim’s family, either of the two witnesses, or Lunger.

Neither Holtzhauer nor the American Jewish Congress’s Brian Siegal would comment further on the case.  A spokesman for Holtzhauer referred me to the police department and Siegal declined to return phone calls.  The Greater Miami Jewish Federation also did not reply to emails.

5.  The “stereotype” the ADL director was worried about was the fact that African Americans commit a hugely disproportionate percentage of murders.  Between 1976 and 2005, African Americans, now 13.2% of the population, committed 52.2% of all murders.  They were nearly seven times as likely to kill as whites.

The vast majority of these killings are by black males age 15 to 25, less than 3% of the population.

Holzhauer probably had in mind a second “stereotype.”  According to the ADL’s own surveys, over 30% of African Americans hold views the organization considers antisemitic, as opposed to only 12% of Americans over-all. Given that the 12% figure includes Hispanics as well, 30% of whom are also antisemitic according to the ADL, this means that fewer than 5% of non-Hispanic whites are antisemitic.  African Americans are thus over six times more likely to be antisemitic than European-Americans, just as they are over six times as likely to kill.

***

Chasidim are obvious targets.  Before there was Ferguson, there was Crown Heights.  After the son of a Guyanese immigrant was accidentally killed by a car in the motorcade for the funeral of a Lubavitcher rabbi, blacks rioted for three days in August of 1991.  Crowds chanted “No justice, no peace” (déja écoute?) and “Death to the Jews.” On the first night, a rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, was stabbed and beaten to death by a group of about 20 blacks.  Two weeks after the riot, a white-bearded Italian businessman who had the misfortune to be wearing a dark business suit was shot to death by four African Americans as he sat in his car in Crown Heights.  The faux-Chasid was named Anthony Graziosi. 

Just the other week, Levi Rosenblatt, an Israeli student praying in a Crown Heights shul, was stabbed by a knife-wielding African American man who screamed, “I want to kill the Jews!”  The man had a bi-polar disorder, and was shot by police when he picked up the knife after putting it down.  But there are seven mosques in Brooklyn Calvin Peters could have chosen if he were so inclined.

It’s not only some African Americans for whom a black kaftan is a red flag.  If the victim had been a suave reform rabbi, a member in good standing of inter-faith councils, a man whose taste in clothes owed more to 21st century Paris than 19th century Bialystok, a man who didn’t have a full beard and an accent, the ADL and other mainstream Jewish organization may not have been so reticent, especially if the killers had been identified as white males.  And if the perps were also non-Muslims, we surely would have heard from the Southern Poverty Law Center as well.  

***

On August 15, Miami-Dade police announced they had surveillance video from homes in the neighborhood that contained “pertinent information” about the suspects.  Earlier in the week, the Jewish community in North Miami Beach had offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the suspects.

Then, on September 19, on the eve of the High Holidays, it appeared there was a break in the case.  Miami-Dade Police Director J. D. Patterson told a local reporter that “some of the people involved” in Rabbi Raksin’s death had been identified.  As only two men were responsible for the killing, the phrasing was a little curious, unless the murder was part of a conspiracy.

In another confusing statement, Patterson suggested that robbery may not have been the motive, even while he stoutly denied that Raksin had been killed because he was Jewish:  “No I don’t believe it was a hate crime, I definitely do not believe it was a hate crime.  I’m not even certain if it was completely a robbery, because I do know that based on the religious practices of the religion, they don’t even carry things of value.  Again I’m not really sure what it was, but it definitely was not a hate crime.”

Asked to comment on whether the killing was still not considered a hate crime, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department would say only that “it is classified as a homicide.”  He did not reply to a follow-up email.

***

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” wrote Martin Luther King from a Birmingham jail.  Nearly three months have passed since Patterson’s revelation and over four months since Raksin was killed. 

In high-profile murders by African Americans -- that is, when they kill middle-class whites -- the perpetrators are often apprehended soon after the crime.  Murderers are not too bright and frequently use the victim’s ATM card or credit cards, like the killers of UNC Student Body President Eve Carson and of Philadelphia epidemiologist Jeanne Calle.  But nothing was taken from Raksin.

Not too long ago, a good percentage of moral and law-abiding African Americans were willing to report murderers to the police, even when they were relatives and the victims were whites, and even when the whites were Jews.  There can be little doubt that this percentage has declined, thanks to the media-fuelled grievance industry and the media’s relentless demonization of Israel.

There might be another explanation:  the murder could have been part of a gang initiation rite.  Yona Lunger believes this is the case.   If so, it would explain the reluctance of anyone to come forward to identify the killers.  No one doubts the Bloods and Crips have informants within the police department and anyone collecting the $50,000 reward wouldn’t be anonymous for long.

But until the suspects are arrested, we won’t know if the rite called for the initiates to target a Jew.  There were other candidates in the vicinity without Orthodox garb.

The administration may fantasize about siccing the military on Tea Party activists, but it has been MIA in reducing gang violence, and the media always looks the other way -- even though most of the 400 to 500 murders each year in Obama’s home town are gang-related.  And no one wants to talk about MS-13 and the other Latino gangs while the President and compassionate Republicans work to create “a path to citizenship” for the nation’s illegal immigrants.

Whatever the motives of the killers, Jews going to synagogues in North Miami Beach during Chanukah will be walking in large groups and looking warily at approaching strangers.

***

The line peddled by the police and the ADL -- “a robbery gone wrong” -- always suggests that the victim unwisely resisted the well-intentioned, business-like robber and that there may have been a struggle for the weapon.

According to family and friends, Rabbi Raksin would have been the last person to do this.  “He was loving, caring, a good man,” said his son-in-law.

Knowing they can do nothing to bring him back or help apprehend his murderers, the family has decided on a quixotic campaign to honor Raksin, a man who “took Judaism very seriously.”  Starting in Key West, family members will be driving an RV across the country.  In each city, someone inside will be copying the Torah from beginning to end, and attempting to bring its “seven universal laws” to the attention of Jews and non-Jews alike.  They’ve set up a website, americastorah.com.