New York City police are in the news again today for the shooting death of a man after he walked into a Brooklyn synagogue, yelled "Kill the Jews!" and stabbed an Israeli student who was there praying.
Calvin Peters, 49, was seen walking into the basement of the world headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue just before stabbing 22-year-old Levi Rosenblat, a rabbinical student who is originally from Israel.
"He's a very serious student. He'd been studying all day," witness Levi Deutsch said of Rosenblat. "He was stabbed in the side of the head. He was conscious but he was bleeding a lot."
A witness ran outside to flag down police who were on a routine patrol. When the first officer arrived, Peters was still wielding the blood-stained nine-inch murder weapon and asking the officer if he was going to shoot him. As seen in eyewitness video, Peters is shown waving the knife around while the police repeatedly instructed him to put it down. The suspect originally put the weapon down, but when the engaging officer put his gun away, Peters grabbed the knife and lunged toward officers just as backup arrived on the scene. The suspect is seen advancing toward police for a few seconds before Officer Roberto Pagan fired the fatal shot that brought Peters down. Peters died of his injuries later at Kings County Hospital.
"While we are very pained by everything that has unfolded, we are very grateful to the police for their quick response and are working closely with the authorities in their ongoing investigation," Chabad Rabbi Motti Seligson said in an emailed statement. "We commend the heroic efforts of the individuals who were present and took immediate action, if not for their intervention the outcome could have been, God forbid far worse. We continue to pray for the young man who is in stable condition."
But it's what the suspect was shouting before the stabbing that has many scratching their heads. "According to witnesses, he was heard saying repeatedly, 'Kill the Jews!'" Seligson said to the NY Post. But others on the scene, including police, say that they believe he was saying "I will kill all of you."
Calvin Peters has had 19 prior arrests dating back to 1982 in New York City, Nassau County, and Delaware. The offenses range from larceny, possession of a controlled substance, contempt of court, and burglary. Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorim John Miller said that this was believed to be an isolated incident. "It appears to involve an individual who is known to the New York City Police Department," Miller said. "(Peters) has a history of being an emotionally disturbed person and acting out in other places."
The synagogue's security guard, Shimon Liberow, said that he saw Peters scoping out the building at around 5:15 p.m. the night before. When Liberow chased Peters away, the guard said that the suspect asked if he could convert to Judaism.
"He asked if he can become Jewish, if he can convert," Liberow added. "My friend told him you have to be Jewish to pray here. He abruptly left." Witnesses say that he asked for a Bible just before stabbing Rosenblat, although intentions were not clear.
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said responding officers appeared in the videos to do everything they could to avoid using deadly force. "Preliminarily the shooting looks like it was justified based on my initial impression of what I've seen of the video," he said.
"You have an individual with a knife, who had allegedly just stabbed an individual," the commissioner continued. "You had three responding officers who were clearly attempting (to avoid gunfire and), repeated, 'Put the knife down, put the knife down.' The shooting, while unfortunate, might have been unavoidable."
Police are not calling this attack racially or ethnically motivated, despite the reported threats shouted by Peters. Rosenblat is in stable condition at Kings County Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.