The tension was palpable as supporters of Brian Boshell packed the September meeting of the 68th Precinct Community Council on Tuesday, September 16 to express their concern over his fate, in the wake of an incident in which he allegedly threatened and allegedly attempted to assault a local Muslim leader.
The 45-year-old Ridgeite was arrested on September 3 after he allegedly threatened to behead Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, and also allegedly attempted to throw a corner trash can at her.
Boshell – who has a history of harassing neighborhood residents on Fifth Avenue — was subsequently charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree, menacing 2 as a hate crime, and aggravated harassment as a hate crime.
“The people who know Brian say it’s crazy, that he’s not capable of a hate crime,” said Ridgeite Liam McCabe during the meeting. Rather than seeing him incarcerated for an extended period, McCabe went on, “They want to make sure that Brian Boshell gets the help he needs.”
McCabe also expressed a concern – echoed by other meeting attendees — that fallout from the incident would fester. “I sense the neighborhood coming apart a little under the surface,” he said.
“I think it’s divided the community and Bay Ridgeites feel pushed out,” added another resident, calling Boshell “a mentally ill homeless man” and expressing a fear that Boshell could end up incarcerated rather than getting necessary treatment.
A third man concurred. “I’m not saying he didn’t say what he said. My question is, at what point does schoolyard rhetoric become a hate crime?” he asked.
Habib Joudeh, a member of Community Board 10 and a member of the Arab American Association, tried to bridge the gap. “Brian is a friend of mine,” he told the crowd. “We all know who Brian is. I have saved Brian at least 50 times from himself and others. Do you know how many times he has cursed Muslims, non-Muslims? Nobody is here to kick anybody out. We are here to live together, here to prosper together. Brian is our problem as much as yours. We want to see him go someplace for help as much as you.”
Captain Ray Festino, the precinct’s commanding officer, throughout the discussion made an effort to reassure the people in the packed room. “This is an active investigation,” he stressed. “What someone is arrested for is not necessarily what he is convicted of. Everything is going to come out in the wash in this, including his mental state. Highly intelligent people way higher than me are going to take a look at Brian’s history, at everything.”
Sergeant Patrick Rodrigo, from the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force, concurred. “The bottom line,” he told the crowd, “is that the people above us are good people. They understand that he might have issues and will help him. They are not trying to put Brian where he shouldn’t be.”