“If the culprits were African American, some people feel justice would’ve been swifter,” the president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has said. On their way into the courtroom every morning, the Werdesheims marched past a scrum of black-jacketed Hasidic and Orthodox supporters who proudly held aloft signs bearing the message “Safety is our right.”
In the 1960s, a Lubavitcher rabbi named Samuel Schrage founded the Crown Heights Maccabees, the original Hasidic anti-crime patrol. The police, alarmed by the presence of untrained vigilantes, put steady and unrelenting pressure on Schrage to shut down the Maccabees. Later the organization reformed as the Shomrim, but the scent of controversy followed the members still; over the next four decades, Shomrim members were routinely accused of — and often arraigned for — assault.