Distrust of police runs deep among U.S. ultra-Orthodox
Shomrim anti-crime patrol is back in the spotlight over the beating and subsequent death of a black teen in Baltimore.
In early May, a circuit court judge in Baltimore found Eliyahu Werdesheim, a 24-year-old member of a local Shomrim anti-crime patrol, guilty of assaulting a teenager named Corey Ausby. According to prosecutors, in 2010 Werdesheim and his brother, Avi, set upon Ausby on a residential street in Northwest Baltimore and beat him with the butt of a two-way radio. Werdesheim, for his part, claims he acted only in self-defense: Ausby was brandishing a nail-studded board, he told reporters. He now faces up to a decade behind bars.
Unsurprisingly, the case has drawn a good deal of media attention, both for its passing resemblance to the Trayvon Martin debacle — attorneys for the Werdesheims, worried about jury prejudice, asked for a bench trial — and because of the background of the victim and aggressors. Ausby is black. The Werdesheims are white. Battle lines have been drawn accordingly.
Although it is often difficult for outsiders to understand, distrust of the police in Orthodox and Hasidic worlds runs extremely deep. Shomrim members, all volunteers, usually describe their roles as those of intermediaries, liaisons between city and community.