The Sentence for Hasidic Men Who Beat and Blinded a Black Gay Man: Community Service
Soon after surviving a 2013 beating in Williamsburg that left him blind in his right eye, then 22-year-old Taj Patterson told NBC New York, “I want these people to know they can’t put their hands on anyone and get away with it, and think just because you have on certain attire you can get away with certain things. We’re all equal here.” But the majority of the five men who were investigated for committing a hate crime on Patterson, in fact, have gotten away with it.
Pinchas Braver and Abraham Winkler were formally sentenced Tuesday to 150 hours of community service, according to the New York Daily News. They also received three years of probation and were ordered to pay $1,400 in restitution to Patterson, though they received an extension on that payment yesterday as well.
Braver and Winkler took a deal that had them pleading guilty to unlawful imprisonment after being charged with first-degree gang assault in 2014. The charges against another member of the group, Aharon Hollender, were dropped last year after a witness failed to pick him out of a lineup. Later in 2015, charges against Joseph Fried were dropped when a witness recanted. The fifth member of the group of Patterson’s attackers, Mayer Herskovic, did not take the plea deal and is scheduled to go to trial August 23.
Patterson said his attackers, who may have been members of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol (or Shorim) according to a witness, shouted anti-gay slurs as they brutalized him. Though the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force initially investigated the case, no hate-crime charges were filed. In December 2013, Gothamist reported:
According to the police report, Patterson was “highly intoxicated, uncooperative and incoherent,” and the Post reported that he couldn’t make a coherent statement that morning.
Braver and Winkler were initially scheduled to be sentenced on August 10, but that was delayed when Braver and Winkler’s lawyer advised that his clients wanted to serve their community service at Manhattan’s Chai Lifeline, which provides services for Jewish children with life-threatening illness. As a condition of their plea bargain, the prosecutor recommended that their community service take place in a “culturally diverse neighborhood outside of where this unlawful imprisonment took place.” In response to the Chai Lifeline request, the judge said, “The people have concerns with the organization, under the plea the community service was to be in a culturally diverse atmosphere.” A venue for Braver and Winkler’s community service has yet to be selected.
Patterson’s case was mishandled early on, when the NYPD closed it almost immediately. In May the Daily News reported:
But within 24 hours, cops in the 90th Precinct classified the attack as a misdemeanor and inexplicably marked the complaint “final, no arrests, CLOSED,” records show.
It was only after the dogged efforts of the victim’s mother that the case was reopened and five men subsequently arrested.
The new details about the investigation emerged as the NYPD is facing a federal corruption probe focused in part on a member of the Borough Park Shomrim, the Jewish volunteer patrol, accused of bribing cops with cash and other gifts.
In June, Patterson filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging very much the same and claiming that the premature closing of the case could have prevented more evidence from being uncovered and more participants identified.
Taken all together, this narrative screams injustice at Patterson’s expense. On Facebook earlier today, journalist (and friend of mine) Steven Thrasher contrasted the lenient sentencing of Patterson’s white attackers with the 15 years that Bayna El-Amin, who’s black and queer, is facing for hitting Jonathan Snipes, who’s white and queer, over the head with a chair in a Dallas BBQ. While I think that many of El-Amin’s vocal supporters tend to simplify (and ultimately undermine) their cause by omitting key details (or by pretending that hitting someone with a purse is the same as hitting someone over the head with a wooden chair), it’s galling that a bunch of white guys who left a guy half blind barely get reprimanded, while a black guy who inflicted no lasting damage that we know of faces a decade and a half in jail. That seems...what’s the word for it? Oh yeah, racist.