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Neighborhood Watching

Racial tensions may ease after Shomrim verdict

An assault case that ignited racial controversy in the city’s Northwest neighborhoods came to a close on June 27, with the sentencing of Eliyahu Werdesheim to three years of probation for beating Corey Ausby, then 15 years old, with a radio.

“The organization continues to operate,” says Nathan Willner, a volunteer lawyer speaking on behalf of Shomrim, the neighborhood patrol group which Werdesheim and his younger brother, Avi, belonged to on the day of the assault, in November of 2010. (Avi Werdesheim was acquitted of criminal charges.) “[Shomrim] has had 7,100 calls since [its] inception. The community continues to call on [it] for service. Things are business as usual.”

Shomrim is an Orthodox Jewish citizen patrol. Ausby is African-American. The patrols were accused of targeting African-American teens in the Jewish parts of Park Heights, where African-Americans and Jews have lived side-by-side for decades.

Earlier this year some community activists compared the case to the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida.

“People from the outside came in and tried to rabble-rouse. And the African-American people in the community sent them packing,” says City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who has supported Shomrim since its founding, in 2005.

The Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was among those calling for Shomrim’s disbandment last year. “I’ll continue to feel that way until the city develops some stronger rules and regulations for citizens’ patrol groups,” he says. “They don’t have any oversight over these types of groups. The city has some liability, I think.”

Neighborhood leaders organized a dialogue which brought African-American and Jewish residents together at the nonprofit Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., or CHAI. “What came out of this through CHAI was some community conversation,” Spector says.

“In our view, there was less of an incident than was on the news,” says lifelong resident Phyllis D. Ajayi, who, with Avrahom Sauer, wrote an op-ed on the subject for The Sun last November.

Ajayi says the group tried to get the word out to residents that social spaces in the neighborhood—the Jewish Community Center, for example—are for everyone.

“From a personal standpoint I would want people to know that this is not a community in turmoil and in trouble,” Ajayi says. “This is an incident between three individuals.”

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