"Drop the charges now! Drop the charges now!" chanted a crowd of about 200 Crown Heights community members Friday afternoon outside of the 71st Precinct on Empire Boulevard.
The group of protesters included lawyers, business owners, rabbis, women and children, all of whom marched from the Jewish Children's Museum on Eastern Parkway to the 71st Precinct, demanding the charges are dropped against 21-year-old Ehud Halevi, a community member who was beaten and arrested last Monday after he refused to leave a Jewish community center that housed troubled youth.
The demonstration, "Justice for Ehud," was in response to an incident caught on video showing two 71st Precinct officers battering Halevi about his head and body. The police officers were responding to a call by a center volunteer worker who believed Halevi was homeless and loitering inside of the center, although in fact Halevi had permission to be at the center.
Halevi was arrested and charged with a felony count of assault on police officers and three misdemeanors: resisting arrest, obstruction and criminal trespass. NYPD has launched an investigation into the incident, while one of the officers, Luis A. Vega, who is seen on the video repeatedly punching Halevi, has been placed on modified duty.
But the charges against Halevi have not been dropped.
"It's important for people to know that we cannot tolerate this kind of brutality and the overwhelming vicious response that was used in this case is something that nobody should tolerate," said one of the protesters. "Now we want our generation and our children to know that this is just something that absolutely cannot and will not be tolerated by any one in any community at any time."
The crowd of protesters was orderly but resolute in its demand, which was two-fold: They wanted both of the officers who were involved in the incident removed from their posts; and they demanded the charges against Halevi were dropped.
Noted civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who is representing Halevi, helped to organize the rally and emphasized the importance of bringing in full community support to broker real change within the police department:
"There is a lot of outrage in this community in regards to what happened, and you need to have a safety valve in effect for the community to express its outrage in regards to what they saw on the tape," he said. "If we're dealing with systemic issues within the police department, then we need more than anything to have a unified voice."
However, the protesters also shared another carefully crafted message, which was to avoid indicting the entire police department. They tip-toed around any sweeping suggestions of corruption with NYPD and instead focused their ire on the two officers involved in Heluvi's case.
"Police officers in general do their job, they put their lives on the line," said Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-48) at the rally. "But when there is an officer who behaves in the fashion of these two police officers, they do not belong on the police force, period!"
"While there are many police officers who are conscientious and diligent in the performance of their duties, there are elements unfortunately that feel they can take the law into their own hands," said Levi Yurman, a protester and attorney.
"This is about civil rights, because if one person's civil rights is taken away, all of our civil rights are taken away. That's why we must all work together."
"My experience is, if the community is there, it increases the likelihood that the charges are dropped and justice will be done," said Siegel.