Politics & Policy

Hate Crime? Not So, Says Brooklyn Community

A hate crime making national headlines is debunked by the locals.

A recent incident between an Arab-American activist and a mentally ill homeless man is being distorted by the national media and left-wing activists, say residents of the Brooklyn community of Bay Ridge.

Last Wednesday afternoon, Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour allegedly had a run-in with a well-known local street person as she exited the Arab-American Association of New York’s headquarters on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. According to the Huffington Post, activist Sarsour “noticed a man leaning up against its storefront.” A more recent article in the Daily News says Sarsour’s alleged assailant, 45-year-old Brian Boshell, “was sleeping on the street in Bay Ridge, blocking their organization’s entryway.” Either way, an employee of the Association, of which Sarsour is the executive director, called 911; but before the NYPD arrived, the man became belligerent. He stood up and allegedly shouted, “you are cutting people’s heads off sharmoota. I’m going to cut off you head and see how your people will feel, you Arab b****.” He then threw a New York City garbage can into the street, according to a police report.

According to the Huffington Post, Sarsour and her co-worker ran across the street and called 911 again. After 45 minutes, police officers finally arrived at the scene, only after Sarsour ran into them at a bagel store. They told her that she should have called the incident an “assault” over the phone. If she had, they would have come sooner.

Sarsour, who, according to her profile on the Arab-American Association of New York’s website has been profiled by PBS, Yahoo News, and the U.K. Guardian in addition to being honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change,” is a familiar Bay Ridge community activist. She quickly took to Twitter, where she has more than 18,000 followers, to label the incident a hate crime. She also called Boshell a “bigoted drunk” on Facebook. At the time of the incident, Sarsour was on her way to a Manhattan forum about police-community relations, where she retold her story to the NYPD deputy commissioners present. A hate-crimes unit was then dispatched.

Boshell was arrested and was arraigned Monday for attempted assault as a hate crime and other counts. He is being held on $20,000 bail and faces up to seven years in prison if arrested. ABC’s Bill Ritter called the confrontation a “violent act of hate.” Headlines about the incident have included the following:

Man Arrested in Alleged Bay Ridge Bias Crime Against Arab American Group Leader

NYPD Took 45 Minutes to Respond to Hate Crime, Arab-American Says

Sarsour, a frequent guest on MSNBC, returned to Melissa Harris-Perry’s show Sunday to discuss the assault. In her introduction, Harris-Perry said Sarsour was subjected to racially charged threats and was apparently targeted “because of her identity.” Sarsour, who wears a hijab, recounted the experience and said of Boshell, “If he was African-American, you better believe he wouldn’t be walking in our streets right now.” The panel then discussed relations between the African-American community and the NYPD.

Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted his condolences to Sarsour, saying that New York City will “never condone such glaring acts of bigotry and tolerance.”

And who is Brian Boshell, the bigot so full of hatred towards Muslims and Arabs? This man.

Boshell is a mentally ill homeless man widely known in Bay Ridge for his public, incoherent outbursts, which resulted in 56 arrests and 34 minor convictions. Police are familiar with his flare-ups, which have been irksome but not dangerous. The picture above shows him sleeping in a bank on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks away from the Arab-American Association. He is known to “sleep where he falls,” as one resident put it.

The community isn’t buying the story the mainstream media and Sarsour are spinning. A 30-year resident of Bay Ridge, who requested anonymity, tells National Review Online, “Instead of an incident with a drunk man, [Sarsour] is using this as her final proof of Islamaphobia in America . . .  Brian [Boshell] has a 25-year history of outbursts . . .  There is a lot that’s questionable about her not knowing who he was.” This resident, who says she knows Boshell and his family personally, says his mental health started to decline when he was 20 years old, after he witnessed his mother and sister die in a car accident.

“Everyone knows who he is. [Sarsour] knows who he is,” a 22-year Muslim resident of Bay Ridge tells National Review Online.

Brian Doherty, a retired police officer who has lived in Bay Ridge for 20 years and whose wife went to junior high school with Boshell, said he mostly wanders around a stretch of 5th Avenue between 69th and 75th Streets. The Arab-American Association of New York sits on 71st Street and 5th Avenue. “That’s his stomping grounds,” a Bay Ridge local comments.

Another resident familiar with Boshell said he should be in a hospital for treatment of his mental conditions, not prison.

Many residents have taken to social media to express their discontent about the hate-crime charge. The hashtag #FreeBobo, a nickname for Boshell, is circulating on Facebook and on signs in local bars.

Sarsour publicly supported Al Sharpton’s recent march across the Verrazano Bridge to protest the death of Eric Garner, and her Arab-American Association organized buses to join the rally. Many Bay Ridge locals are upset at what they say is her divisive handling of the incident with Boshell.

Bay Ridge has a large Arab-Muslim community, and the New York Times made Sarsour the lead figure in a 2013 profile and accompanying video about ethnic enclaves in New York City.

“There is no community in New York City that has embraced Arab culture more than Bay Ridge,” Doherty tells NRO.

According to another local, “This community has lived peacefully with Arabs and this [alleged hate crime] is being used as a wedge in the neighborhood.”

Representatives from the NYPD’s hate-crimes unit will be in attendance at the next 68th Police Precinct Council Meeting on September 16th. “Anyone who feels that Boshell was railroaded should come to the meeting,” a representative tells NRO.

Doherty speculates that Sarsour is seeking attention in hope of succeeding Bay Ridge’s term-limited councilman in 2016. “She’s attempting to make it political because she has her eye on [Vincent] Gentile’s seat,” Doherty tells NRO.

The case lays open the ambiguous and often illogical nature of hate crime laws. Had Boshell merely shouted “b****” without the word “Arab” before hurling the garbage can, he would probably be facing only another misdemeanor. Some Bay Ridge residents expressed concern on social media about whether Boshell, who could be facing a seven-year sentence, would be able to handle a prison populated by gang members and rapists.

“This is a tortured definition of a hate crime,” Doherty says. 

— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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