Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Russian Emigre Community Accuses New York Police of Harassment : Crime: Some in Brighton Beach, disputing criminal image, have launched a new mission to counteract what they see as rising discrimination against newcomers from the former Soviet Union.

October 16, 1994|ELEANOR RANDOLPH | WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK — For Michael Gotlibovsky and his family, the parking dispute should have been a shouting match at worst. But when Gotlibovsky's nephew started exchanging angry words with a man in red shorts and a T-shirt in a Brighton Beach parking lot, the man pulled out a police badge and a hip-pocket radio.

Within minutes, police flooded the area. Gotlibovsky, his son and his nephew were thrown to the ground, handcuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing justice.

"How can they do this?" asked Gotlibovsky as he stood in the battered hallway of Brooklyn's criminal court recently. The 54-year-old Ukrainian, who opened his shoe repair shop in Brighton Beach when he arrived 18 years ago, spent two days in court to have his record cleared.

After the charges were dismissed, Gotlibovsky said he planned to file an official complaint against the officers who arrested him.

The incident came after a similar fracas in early August that resulted in the arrest of five people, including a Russian-speaking man who has run an auto repair shop in Brighton Beach for more a decade.

The sum of these two incidents, plus a number of less dramatic ones, has left many longtime residents of this Russian emigre stronghold stunned and bitter about what they believe is unfair treatment by police and city officials.

"There are a lot of problems now in Brighton Beach," said Felix Gotlibovsky, Michael's 30-year-old son, who was arrested with his father. "Because there are criminals coming here now from Russia, they think that all Russians are criminals."

With Russian crime becoming a hot topic in the media and a steadily increasing Russian emigre community, law-abiding Russians have begun to feel that America's welcome mat is unraveling.

A Russian accent--like an Italian name in past eras--seems to give people the instant label as "Mafia," several Russians said.

Now some prominent Russians have launched a new group whose mission is in part to oppose what they see as rising discrimination against emigres from the former Soviet Union. "We were not getting our phone calls to the city answered," said Valery Weinberg, chairman of the group, which calls itself the First North American-Russian Council.

The group started off with a protest early last month that included Soviet veterans wearing their World War II medals, much as they do at similar rallies in Moscow. The rally also brought out a few angry participants who were ready to chant "American police are KGB." Leaders persuaded the firebrands to carry less explosive placards: "We are for police but against police brutality."

The council showed another dimension of its growing clout when it hosted an opening, which featured violins, ice sculptures and speeches by a variety of cultural and political figures such as Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.).

The reception, which drew about 500 people, was held at the council's posh new headquarters, a well-appointed townhouse near Fifth Avenue that was once owned by Andrew Carnegie. The council will share the site with the Women's National Republican Club. Memberships run $3,000 for corporations and $1,500 for families.

Weinberg, who is also publisher of the Russian-language newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo, said the Russians want to make it clear they are in the United States to stay, not just to tap into the country's economic largess and return home with their savings. When there are problems, he said, his group wants the city to respond quickly.

Lou Carbonetti, director of community assistance in the mayor's office, said he has begun working with the First North American Russian Council.

"We are trying to find out what is going on there and how to remedy this," Carbonetti said. "We are all concerned about proper treatment of them, and we will make sure we will help any way possible, as we would in any community."

Like many other immigrant groups coming to America, the more established emigres in the Russian-speaking community in Brooklyn and other areas around New York City are suffering in part from the problems brought by the newer ones. The Soviet Union has disintegrated, and with its demise the status of the Russian immigrant seems to have changed.

After years of being viewed as brave refugees from a brutal totalitarian system, the older immigrants have been supplanted by a newer wave with a far less savory reputation.

Police officials, federal authorities and the media have begun to focus on the sudden appearance of violent Russian mobsters here with connections to gangs in the former Soviet states. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh went to Russia earlier this year to help set up an FBI office in Moscow and start a working relationship with Russian police to catch mobsters moving over the borders into Europe and to the United States. At the same time, the FBI office in New York has set up a Russian crime unit with 10 to 20 members, some of them Russian speakers. The FBI says it is working on about 40 cases involving Russians here.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|