A group of independent Black journalists and community activists are demanding comment from freshly sworn-in State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein about his dismissal of felony charges against a Jewish man accused of attacking a Black teenager in Northwest Baltimore last November.

Last week, Bernstein’s office would not comment on the felony assault charge they dropped against Jewish community patrolman Eliyahu Werdesheim.

The State’s Attorney’s Office decided to drop the charge—the steepest of four—at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 20. Werdesheim now faces only misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, false imprisonment and possession of a deadly weapon.
“At the end of the day, we just want an answer (from Bernstein),” said Hassan Giordano of the Baltimore Black Media Group. “We think it is only fair and fitting.”
Giordano and other activists held a media conference in front of the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse Jan. 24 seeking answers.

Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, former Baltimore NAACP president, said Bernstein vowed “fair and equal” prosecutions during his swearing-in ceremony, therefore, he owes an explanation to the Black community.

According to court records, the 16-year-old alleged victim had been walking in the predominately-Jewish Upper Park Heights neighborhood when Werdesheim, Werdesheim’s brother, Avi, and another man allegedly forced him to the ground and struck him with a radio. The teen sustained lacerations, bruises and a broken wrist. During the assault, Eliyahu Werdesheim reportedly said, “You don’t belong around here. Get out of here.”

“If that’s not first degree assault, I don’t know what is,” Giordano said.
The attack sparked an outcry from Black and Jewish community leaders late last year and tested Black and Jewish relations in Baltimore City.

Michael Eugene Johnson, a leader of the Paul Robeson Institute and a city council candidate, said the public felt the “volatile” incident was handled poorly.
“If this is the way he is going to handle all cases, then we are in trouble,” he told reporters.

The leaders also criticized the State’s Attorney’s Office for not demanding bail from Avi Werdesheim, who is also charged with misdemeanors.

They are calling for a federal probe to determine whether or not the accused should face hate crime charges.

After the press conference, Bernstein’s office released a curt statement, saying the decision to drop the charge against Eliyahu Werdesheim was “based on a careful and thorough investigation of the facts and analysis of the applicable law.”

“It is not appropriate to make any further public statements about the facts of this case—or any other pending cases—until after a trial in which all of the evidence is presented,” it read. “Such public comments are unfair to all the parties involved.”

The injured teen’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, told the AFRO Bernstein is “being soft” on Werdesheim because he is Jewish.

“There is no other reason why the charges would be dropped,” he said, insisting the incident had all the elements of a hate crime. “This young child was assaulted because he was African American in a Jewish community.”

The third man involved in the attack has yet to be prosecuted, he said, and the two brothers are receiving “special treatment.”

Gordon asserts he has reason to believe the two men are dual citizens of Israel and the U.S. and can flee at any moment, especially the second brother who did not face bail demands.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO