Man accused of hurling antisemitic and racist epithets in Temple Beth El’s parking lot is in police custody.
A man who drove into the Temple Beth El Parking lot in Bloomfield Township during preschool drop off time on the morning of Friday, Dec. 2, allegedly spewing anti-Israel rhetoric and anti-Jewish and racist language toward parents, caregivers and preschoolers as well as African American security guards is now in the custody of the Oakland County Jail pending arraignment.
In a statement released Dec. 4, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald charged Hassan Yehia Chokr, 35, of Dearborn with two counts of ethnic intimidation under the Michigan 1931 Penal Code. Ethnic intimidation is a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to two years, or by a fine up to $5K, or both. He was arrested by Dearborn police after an investigation by the procesutor and police departments.
It was comforting news at the conclusion of an uneasy weekend for Metro Detroit’s Jewish community. The news on Friday quickly spread about the incident.
In a letter to congregants, TBE Rabbi Mark Miller wrote: “A man drove through the parking lot and verbally harassed several of our ECC families, using language connected to Israel. He also yelled the ‘N-word’ at one of our staff members. We implemented our security protocols immediately, and the police arrived within minutes — they are currently evaluating the individual involved. And per our protocols, security at Temple has been increased and will remain that way beyond the weekend.
“Everyone at Temple is fine, and we are confident that our facility remains secure thanks to the professionalism and dedication of our security team, led by Morris Collins. In addition, we have been working throughout the day with Bloomfield Township P.D., the Federation’s security apparatus, the ADL and a private security firm.”
After the incident, a troubling video on Instagram surfaced of Chokr filming himself before and after the incident accompanied by the surfacing of a menacing video the man posted on his Instagram page, where it seemed he got a light-handed treatment from Bloomfield Township Police and was initially released. The man’s Instagram account at press time was still up, filled with many hateful rants wishing to commit violence against Jews, and he has hundreds of followers.
TBE Rabbi Miller said he was thankful that Friday’s assault was verbal rather than physically violent — but it was also terrifying.
“It is remarkable how much havoc one detestable person can cause,” Miller said. “Our entire community is on edge. We will remain vigilant. We have increased our already strong security presence in response to this incident. We will not let this sort of evil individual prevent us from pursuing a positive and joyful approach to Judaism at Temple Beth El.”
Responding to the arrest of Chokr, officials at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit in a statement on Facebook expressed gratitude to law enforcement, security and investigative officials who have been working and coordinating efforts since Friday morning.
“We are extremely grateful that a felony warrant for the individual was issued for these heinous actions and that he is now in police custody,” read the statement. “We thank the Bloomfield Township Police, the County Prosecutor’s Office and all the law enforcement entities that have been working on this for their diligence and commitment to the security of our community.”
Federation leaders will remain in close contact with local authorities and ask the community to remain vigilant. Incidents can be reported first to local law enforcement agencies and then to JCSI at https://jcsdetroit.org.
Bloomfield township Police Response
Bloomfield Township Police released a statement on Sunday in response to a great deal of criticism that had percolated in the community on social media after watching Chokr’s Instagram recording of the seemingly casual nature of the behavior of the officers at the traffic stop, including officers letting him not show his identification, commenting on his landscape business bumper sticker, and one officer responding to Chokr’s wanting to give the officer a fist bump, and releasing him after he said he was then “going to another synagogue to find another Jewish lawyer.”
They wrote: “We can assure our community that all necessary tools at our disposal were and are utilized. Township leadership, Temple Beth El, Jewish Community Security and the Jewish Federation are sharing ongoing security and communication efforts. We stand with the Jewish community in deploring this incident and behavior, and in any such situation we will seek to hold anyone accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Speaking with the JN, the officer on the scene who gave the much-criticized fist bump gave his account. The officer first observed Chokr from his squad car posted on 14 Mile and Telegraph as Chokr drove past six or seven vehicles making their approach into the parking lot.
The officer said Chokr was slowly driving past a line of cars and, while filming, asked people if they supported Israel. This was documented on an Instagram post that had since been removed by the platform. Chokr said he was also shouting “[F-word] Israel” out his window while giving lewd hand gestures. Chokr also shouted “n-loving Jews” to the security guard on the premises, who asked Chokr to leave the parking lot.
Shortly afterward, Chokr turned south on Telegraph where the officer pulled him over onto Bloomington Drive, identified his license plate number and called it into a dispatch. He confirmed the white Ford van was registered to Chokr.
The officer said he is highly trained with over 20 years of experience, including skills and techniques to de-escalate potentially dangerous traffic stops with people who may be armed and have a severe mental illness.
When the officer pulled up Chokr’s license plate number, he had all the information that would be contained on his driver’s license. Though it is by law required for a driver to hand over their license and registration, an officer may not repeatedly press a driver to hand these documents over if they feel it could escalate a situation from becoming violent.
In addition to the new charges, Chokr is also pending a trial in February 2023 in the 36th District Court under Judge Millicent Sherman, where in April of 2020 he pled not guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon (a felonious assault) according to Wayne County Court records. There were, however, no current warrants for his arrest.
The dispatch call also confirmed that Chokr had no concealed permit license and Chokr, for undisclosed reasons, cannot obtain a firearm for purchase. In a blatant move to show how “his rights were taken away,” Chokr, in an Instagram post he filmed later that day, seemed to be leaving a gun shop in Dearborn, saying that he had been declined from purchasing a gun.
The officer added that another image from Chokr’s Instagram account of a gun and a torn window screen, was confirmed to be an air gun found at the man’s Dearborn residence. Law enforcement found no weapons at the residence.
McDonald also released a statement expressing alarm of the content on Chokr’s social media posts.
“When I saw video of this man spewing hate at families and children outside Temple Beth El, I was horrified,” she stated. “I can only imagine the fear and anxiety felt by those children and their parents. It has affected our entire community. This highlights the need for the important security work being done by the Jewish Federation and, unfortunately, the need for all of us to remain vigilant.”
Community Members Respond
Soon after the incident, attorney Neil Rockind, whose children attended preschool at TBE, extended his services on a pro bono basis to families affected by the event should they need legal assistance and support to come forward and offer their accounts to investigative officials. Rockind said he was disturbed that Chokr knew the precise time to visit the parking lot when children were getting dropped off and exactly where to go, considering the entrance is not on Telegraph but tucked into 14 Mile Road.
“This man decided to travel out of his way to Bloomfield Township, drive into a parking lot that is clearly marked as a temple and navigate that very large parking lot,” said Rockind of Bloomfield Hills.
“It is not like this is a temple in an urban setting where there are people you can randomly ask walking up and down a sidewalk how they feel about Israel. I doubt that that was the conversation, and I have reason to believe that that was not the intent of the conversation. This man was not looking for a polite exchange on different opinions about Israel. The Jewish community has had our claims of discrimination and prejudice treated differently. That’s not going to happen anymore.”
Taryn Leib, who has children enrolled in the preschool and was an eyewitness to the incident, said even though the man is now in police custody, she criticized how he was initially handled by Bloomfield Township Police. She claimed her account of the incident was dismissed by the department.
“The surfacing of the Instagram videos that revealed the man’s identity and the actions of the Bloomfield Police Department members has made some people wary of returning to school,” said Leib, of West Bloomfield. “As parents, we are thankful for our security staff, who put themselves in harm’s way. Many could hear the man calling our security guard a “Jew-loving [n-word]” loudly and repeatedly. The actions of the officers who laughed with the man and fist-bumped him after he informed them he was going to another synagogue do not give us the confidence in the police department’s ability to keep our families safe.”
Noting the man’s many social media followers, Leib also said she was concerned about the amount of support his hatred received and wondered how competent law officials will be when the next threat arises.
However, Carolyn Normandin, regional director, Detroit/Michigan Office of the Anti-Defamation League, said she was reassured all the working parts of a security response protocol functioned as they should have.
She noted the quick decisive action and coordination taken by the synagogue’s security personnel and law enforcement, who quickly stopped and questioned him. Normandin was troubled by his use of social media as he filmed people in the parking lot as he tried to get a rise out of them by questioning them on their views on Israel and filmed himself ranting against Jews and filming his traffic stop.
She said it is tempting for people to jump to conclusions when they think not enough is being done by law and investigative officials. She said law and security officials were working behind the scenes from the moment the incident was reported.
“Law enforcement was working behind the scenes all day on Friday,” explained Normandin. “There are many times when people assume that nothing is being done because they have not yet heard any developments. Law enforcement doesn’t immediately give out any details of because they don’t want to hamper the investigation.”
November was a busy month for Michigan’s ADL office, which fielded complaints of 17 incidents in the first 20 days of the month. Many of the incidents involved verbal harassment and, therefore, police were not involved.
Normandin said the incident is a learning opportunity for police and law enforcement to understand the severity of the fear many in the Jewish community are experiencing as antisemitic events continue to rise.
On Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an alert for heightened activity in hate crimes against the Jewish and LGBT communities. On Nov. 22, a man committed a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs killing five and wounding 25 people. On the same day, New York City and federal investigative authorities thwarted an attack on a New York City synagogue when they arrested a man who was making online threats and found he was in possession of many weapons and a Nazi arm band.
“In the times we are in, there is an opportunity to educate law enforcement officials about the fever pitch the Jewish people feel we are under,” Normandin said. “This incident was a bad incident and should not be minimized. Though this man did not commit an act of terrorism, he did terrify a lot of people.”
Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield posted on Facebook, “My heart breaks for the Temple Beth El community. We stand with them and pray for them. May God heal them and grant them strength. May they find comfort in friendship, faith and community.”