Crown Heights, NY - Lieb Skoblo’s silver Honda Pilot motors through dusk in Crown Heights.
A black man stands idly on the street, peering apprehensively at the car, which is emblazoned with law enforcement-type decals and a bank of amber lights on top. Not far away, a black woman sits in her Jeep Grand Cherokee. She looks at the vehicle and scowls.
Skoblo eyes them both. That’s his job as a driver for Shmira, a private - and extremely controversial - Orthodox Jewish security force that patrols the racially divided neighborhood to protect Jews from what they believe is an entire race of people out to get them.
The controversial group of more than 100 usually puts two-man teams of volunteers in four to six cars nightly, many in blue and white vehicles that resemble NYPD cars.
The group has a dispatcher - like the Police Department - and all members carry a radio.
“The reality is that crime in Crown Heights is committed by blacks on Jews,” said Yossi Stern, 38, the director of the vigilante group, on a ride-along with the group last week.
“I can show you close to 40 beatings in Crown Heights over the past two years where young Jewish men were beaten and ended up in the hospital. It was not the other way around.”
Stern’s incendiary comments show the deep-rooted animosity that lingers in the Brooklyn powder keg at a time when his patrol finds its tactics under fire from not only black residents, but also city law enforcement.
Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes compared the group - which carries no weapons, only radios - to the ruthless Bloods and Crips gangs, after one of Shmira’s members allegedly attacked a young black man, the son of a police sergeant, with a stick this spring.
A police official, who did not want to give his name, called Shmira “very secretive” and “not always cooperative” with cops. “We have to deal with them because they have a lot of support from the community,” the official said.
Hynes’ comparison, in particular, angered Stern.
“The DA made a very poor insinuation, a very grave mistake, by insinuating that Shmira and the Crips are alike,” he said.
“Everyone knows we’re not. If you’re going to say that we do vigilante activities, show me where. I have a wife and kids to protect. I’m not interested in getting myself in trouble for no reason. We’re here to provide safety and security to the community, and we do that.”
The DA later tempered his sharp comments.
“It was not my intention to suggest that the Shmira were capable of the violence which is the signature of street thugs like the Bloods and the Crips,” Hynes said. “What I meant to say was when there is an organized group, like Shmira, which may have been part of this unprovoked assault, that I intend to do everything possible to find out where the truth lies.”
In what some saw as retaliation for the beating, a month later two black teens allegedly assaulted a 16-year-old Orthodox boy. The tensions echo the anger that inflamed the tree-lined community during the infamous 1991 race riots.
In a show of quiet force, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly visited the area last month and beefed up police patrols. But, a yeshiva student still griped, “I don’t think [the police] give us enough protection.
“They’re just here to make a good show. Shmira is doing as much as they can to make up for that,” said the young Orthodox resident.
For Tayshawn Howard, a 39-year-old black construction worker in the neighborhood, Shmira’s tactics are simple racial profiling.
“Hell yeah, they’re racist, and they make it bad for all the other Jewish people in the neighborhood,” Howard said.
He and several other black residents blamed the police for even allowing the group’s patrols.
“They’d never let us have our own police cars and go on patrols,” Howard said.
David Bushelle, 45, also black, agreed.
“We have the transit police, the regular police, and we just call these guys the Jewish police,” he said. “But we don’t know exactly where their authority lies. I blame the police. The police need to tell the community exactly what the Jewish police are. The lack of that info creates contempt.”
Not everyone in the black community is offended by Shmira’s patrols.
Stern, the group’s director, has an unlikely defender in black activist Geoffrey Davis, the brother of slain City Councilman James Davis.
“There are tons of incidents, and there is tension, make no mistake about it,” Davis said.
But it “is misplaced anger. If you feel that the police are not servicing you, and I feel that the police are not protecting me and no one is listening to us, that misplaced anger can lead to riots.
“I like the security patrols. I feel safer.”
Asked if Shmira is guilty of racial profiling, Davis responded, “I don’t think so. They’re protecting the neighborhood - if there are some kids who look like they’re not supposed to be in the neighborhood or they’re going to rob a car or something.”
Davis paused. He then shrugged and said, “Tough love.”
Shmira driver Skoblo, who runs a plumbing-supply business by day, said his group is prepared for any emergency.
“Every acting member has a radio on them. If someone is needed, they’re there,” he told The Post while tooling around in his decked-out Honda.
“Let’s say the s- - - hits the fan. We have two or three guys designated to make the calls in a major emergency. Within 15 minutes, hundreds of people will be there. Within an hour, several hundred more.
“We do have contingency plans for a riot,” too, he said.
Shmira - which in Hebrew means “to protect” - was founded in 1968 and does not discriminate when it comes to helping victims of crime, its backers said.
“The people of the neighborhood were let down once by the police. We’re not going to let that happen again,” Skoblo said.
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