Orthodox Community Protests Police Shooting

Hundreds of strictly Orthodox Jews took to the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., this week to protest the fatal shooting by police officers of an emotionally disturbed member of the community.

The shooting victim, Gary Busch, 31, was felled by a hail of bullets Aug. 30 after he attacked a group of police officers with a claw hammer outside his apartment. Police had been summoned to the building in the mostly Orthodox Borough Park section after receiving complaints of a violent disturbance.

Busch, a newly Orthodox Jew with a history of mental illness who had moved to the neighborhood two months earlier, was initially asked by officers to surrender his hammer. Police spokesmen said he responded by rushing the four officers, swinging the hammer like a bat. One officer sprayed Busch with pepper spray, but that apparently enraged Busch, and he attacked, striking a sergeant. Other officers then opened fire. Police said 12 bullets were fired.

After the shooting, a large crowd of strictly Orthodox Jews gathered outside the building, pelted police with debris and then marched on a nearby police station, chanting, “Justice, Justice.” The next morning, another crowd gathered outside the station and chanted, “Jewish blood is not cheap,” and demanded to see Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

At a press conference later that day, the mayor called the police actions “appropriate.”

The New York Police Department has been widely criticized in recent months for excessive use of force. Busch was the fourth person killed by police bullets in August.

Giuliani is a strong supporter of the often-embattled police department, but he also has close ties to the Orthodox community. Analysts say a split with the Orthodox community now could be politically devastating as he prepares for a tough Senate race next year against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The shooting has divided Borough Park’s political and religious leadership, with some attacking the police and others urging caution.

New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind harshly criticized the police at a press conference as he mockingly insisted that Busch could have been restrained without guns. “This is not Dodge City; this is Borough Park,” he said.

But New York City Councilman Noach Dear, Hikind’s longtime political rival, urged residents to wait until the police and district attorney had completed their separate inquiries before drawing conclusions.

“We have a long-standing relationship with the police department,” Dear said. “The department has been working very, very closely with the community, and we have to make sure we don’t hurt that relationship.”

Neighborhood leaders said Busch, who went by the name Gideon, was a loner who often showed signs of emotional disturbance. He was not connected to any of the area’s many Chassidic sects and did not regularly attend any synagogue.

He had been raised in a secular home in suburban Long Island, attended Emory University in Atlanta and enrolled in Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York. His mother, Doris Busch Boskey, told reporters that he left medical school in 1991 after being diagnosed with a serious kidney illness, and since then had been “searching for meaning in his life.”

She said her son had visited Israel several years ago, came back as a member of an Orthodox “cult” and had become increasingly depressed since then. She said he was “brilliant” and “not violent.”

According to one report, however, Busch was hospitalized several times for mental illness in 1995 and 1996 and was diagnosed as paranoid and schizophrenic. Neighbors told reporters that he frequently brandished a small hammer which he said had special powers.

He had been arrested Aug. 8 for creating a disturbance, and one day before his death, he allegedly attacked a motorist, with his hammer, breaking the motorist’s nose.

New York-based J.J. Goldberg writes for The Jewish Journal.