Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Officials: Jersey City shooters held anti-Semitic and anti-police views 

New Jersey officials believe the two shooters at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City were motivated by bias against Jews and the police.

"We believe that the suspects held views that reflected hatred of the Jewish people as well as a hatred of law enforcement," the state's Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said at a news conference Thursday, Dec. 12.

Four people died in the attack Dec. 10 at the kosher store, in addition to the gunmen. The victims include market co-owner Mindy Ferencz, 32, and Moshe Deutsch, 24, who are Jewish, and a store employee, Miguel Douglas, 49. A police officer, Joseph Seals, 39, was killed at a nearby cemetery.

After shooting Seals, the suspects, who have been identified as David Anderson and Francine Graham, drove a van a mile away to the JC Kosher Supermarket and entered firing, according to local law enforcement officials. Police arrived on the scene and a shootout began that lasted more than an hour.

When it was over, police found the bodies of the three civilians and the gunmen. Police also found an active pipe bomb in their van.

Grewal said the incident was being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism.

"The evidence points towards acts of hate," he told reporters. "I can confirm that we are investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terrorism, fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs."

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said the suspects targeted only people in the store as well as the police, and that a video showed that they had not shot at passersby.

"They were clearly targeting that store. They were clearly targeting the New Jersey Police Department," he said at the news conference.

Grewal said investigators were looking into social media posts that allegedly were written by the suspects. He said they were also probing possible ties with the Black Hebrew Israelites, a movement of African- Americans who believe they descended from the biblical Israelites. Some adherents hold anti-Semitic views.

"We have evidence that both suspects expressed interest in this group, but we have not definitely set any formal links to that organization or any other formal group," Grewal said.

He added that investigators believe that the shooters were acting on their own.

Ferencz and Deutsch were among the first of a growing number of haredi Orthodox Jewish families that in recent years moved to Jersey City from Brooklyn because of increasing rents. Community members say the Jews got along well with other residents in the Greenville neighborhood, which has a significant African-American population.

Every Friday afternoon, Ferencz would cook hot kugel and cholent and serve them in the small grocery store she and her husband, Moshe, opened here about four years ago.

The store, JC Kosher Supermarket, became a cornerstone of the small but growing Jewish community in the Jersey City neighborhood across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The sole kosher grocery for the 100 or so Orthodox families here, the store signaled that the community was there to stay, hopefully for years to come.

Many who moved from Brooklyn had found a welcoming new home. It wasn't a danger zone, they said. They got along with their neighbors and did not experience the anti-Semitic vandalism, harassment and assaults that have taken place recently in Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods.

"There have never been any attacks or incidents with the Jews who lived there," said Rabbi Avi Schnall, the New Jersey director for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox organization. Rabbi Schnall has worked with Jews and other local leaders in Greenville on building bridges with the neighborhood's communities.

Schnall drew a link between the shooting and the killings at synagogues in Poway, CA, in April, and in Pittsburgh a little more than a year ago.

"It's beyond tragic," Schnall said. "It's frightening. What's more frightening is this is not a local issue. This is taking place in three places throughout the country in the past year, that people are being gunned down."


Less than a day after the shooting, JC Kosher is already rebuilding. A plywood frame stood in front of the store entrance near a truck carrying what looked like drywall. Men from a company called Gold Star Restoration were hammering away. Inside, boxes of children's candy, cereal and croutons lined the shelves. A group of Orthodox men were carrying a shiny new door to the building. Construction paused only for a prayer service at the adjacent synagogue, K'hal Adas Greenville, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Murphy in attendance.

The grocery store is on Martin Luther King Drive, one of the neighborhood's central thoroughfares. Down the street is a Pentecostal church, a mosque and a string of businesses. The surrounding blocks are full of row houses in a rainbow of colors along with some empty lots. Broken bottles and litter line the streets.

Douglas Harmon, 43, a lifetime Greenville resident and local building contractor, said that he and other locals have had a good relationship with their new Jewish neighbors, though gentrification has increased tensions in the area.

In a video circulated in Hasidic group text messages, Harmon offered to help clean out the store for free and offered his best wishes to the Jewish community. "The people walking past every day, they don't have any problem [with the Jewish community]," Harmon told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "As long as you're a good person, good people are respected wherever they go."

He added, "That never should have happened to the Jewish people yesterday, or the cops."

Religious leaders in Greenville already have been working together to assuage the tensions that often accompany gentrification, Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro told JTA. Lavarro said the city had allowed residents to put "No Knock" signs on their doors to deter real estate developers. He said he did not know if the shooting was at all related to issues in the neighborhood.

"I think we can do better to be a welcoming city," Lavarro said. "I think we can do a better job of balancing preserving the culture, heritage and values of those who have been in the city in longtime residence, and balancing the needs of communities that are newer to Jersey City."

Rabbi Schnall feared that, despite the largely tranquil feeling in Greenville before the shooting, this is simply the new reality: Jewish communities across the country are at risk. "It's concerning that this took place," he said. "But things like this can happen anywhere."


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