N.Y. Jews in uproar in Orthodox slaying

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NEW YORK — The police shooting of a hammer-wielding man in the Orthodox enclave of Borough Park exploded with political ramifications this week, threatening to erode support for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in one of his staunchest bases.

Hundreds of Chassidic Jews nights took to the streets Monday and Tuesday, many of them criticizing the officers who killed 31-year-old Gary "Gidone" Busch in a hail of bullets Monday after he charged at them with a claw hammer.

The questions about excessive police force recalled the debate that embroiled the mayor and the city earlier this year following the shooting of an unarmed African immigrant in the Bronx. That incident was largely ignored in Orthodox neighborhoods like Borough Park, where confrontations with police are rare.

"Rudy Giuliani received well over 90 percent of the vote in Borough Park in his campaigns for mayor," said Ezra Friedlander, a politically active Chassid planning to run for City Council in Borough Park. "He is extremely popular for his anti-crime initiatives, but people are questioning some of his policies vis-a-vis the conduct and support that he gives police officers.

"They feel some of the police are out of hand and there's no leadership coming from the top to stop this sort of behavior."

The incident could prove politically damaging for Giuliani as he is expected to square off with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in an all-but-announced clash for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan.

"He has worked the Jewish community assiduously," said Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, "but this is potentially trouble."

The shooting has created a rift in Borough Park between those who justify the shooting, or are reserving judgment until the investigation is complete, and those who see the incident as an act of excessive force. Two Jewish elected officials in Borough Park have come down on opposite sides of the debate.

City Councilman Noach Dear has indicated that thus far, it appears the police acted appropriately, while Assemblyman Dov Hikind has all but labeled the act excessive. Hikind questioned the procedures used by the officers, who responded to a 911 call to find Busch, wearing tefillin, violently swinging a hammer in his apartment. Busch had been hospitalized three times for mental illness.

"The police knew they were dealing with someone with emotional problems," said Hikind. "You can't treat that person the same as an armed robber."

The assemblyman said an electronic device used to stun assailants, known as a Tazer, had been allocated to the 66th Precinct in Borough Park but was not working.

"This could have saved his life," said Hikind.

The night after the shooting, an air of tension was still evident on 46th Street as throngs of Chassidic youth lined the street. A single memorial candle marked the spot where Busch was felled, and yeshiva students leaned close to the brick facade of a home adjoining his apartment to survey bullet holes.

"They had no right to shoot him," said Abraham Friedman, 14, a student at the Bobover Yeshiva. "If a man who was not a policeman shot someone else 12 times, you tell me what will be his end."

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he had been asked to come to Borough Park to protest the shooting, and appeared there briefly Tuesday, promising to hold a prayer vigil Sunday at the site of the killing.

"There still seems to be a policy to shoot first and ask questions later," said Sharpton, calling for a federal investigation of the Busch case.

Giuliani and city Police Commissioner Howard Safir have strongly defended the actions of the officers who opened fire on Busch, a Long Island native who moved to Borough Park after becoming Orthodox in the mid-1990s.

"He had been smoking marijuana, possibly laced with PCP or another drug," Safir told a group of synagogue leaders at a meeting Tuesday morning, scheduled to discuss security for the High Holy Days. Safir also said Busch was responsible for a violent hammer attack on a motorist the previous day, although Busch apparently was not arrested or charged in that incident.

"The police officers did what they were supposed to do," Safir said "He was asked to cease and desist, and he refused when the shooting occurred. They used non-lethal force at first."

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