A Man's Rant About People Speaking Spanish Is Going Viral. Here's How To Defuse Similar Situations.

I encountered him before.

When I first saw the viral video of a man berating people for speaking Spanish in Manhattan, I was shocked.

It was surprising enough that someone was upset that they had heard Spanish in New York City, which is spoken almost everywhere, but it was shocking because I recognized the man in the video. I had encountered him myself, in a similarly tense moment, a year before.

Recommended

My encounter with the man happened at an anti-Linda Sarsour rally on May 25, 2017. I reported on the rally for A Plus.

Sarsour was expected to deliver a commencement speech at City University of New York's Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, and protesters had gathered on the street outside of my office building to object. Milo Yiannopoulos, Pamela Geller, and a host of other far-right conservative provocateurs were there.

Among the group of protesters at that rally was the same man filmed berating two women for speaking Spanish inside a New York City Fresh Kitchen this week. The man has since been identified as midtown attorney Aaron Schlossberg by activist and journalist Shaun King. (A Plus has not yet independently confirmed the man's name.)

As Geller and Yiannopoulos' speeches came to a close, the man wandered over to the opposite side of the street, where he and a few other people wearing Trump campaign apparel spotted Haredi Jews who were also there on the behalf of Neturei Karta International, and had come out to counter-protest in support of Palestine. 

One of their lead rabbis, Dovid Feldman told me that he was there to defend Sarsour — who he said he knew — and spread his message of support for Palestine. But shortly after our interview began, he was interrupted by this man, who came over and berated him and a few other individuals who were with him. The man, who King identified as Schlossberg, insisted that Feldman was a "fake Jew," inciting chants of "fake Jews" over and over again while giving them the middle finger.

In two videos I am publishing in full here for the first time, the man can be seen telling me that he's been to Israel twice and is Jewish himself, all the while insisting Feldman, the well-known Haredi Jewish leader, was faking it. In a second video, he is again seen giving the group of Jews the middle finger, this time dancing and shaking his backside at them.

A Plus called the phone number listed for Schlossberg's law firm several times to confirm that he was the man who we filmed at the Sarsour protest and that was filmed at Fresh Kitchen, but the line went to his voicemail almost immediately each time. A message left on his voicemail has not been returned. 

In the Fresh Kitchen video, the man can be heard threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on people because they were speaking Spanish to each other. And notably, the restaurant is next door to Schlossberg's law office.

As a reporter, I am tasked with engaging people in situations like this to try to better understand the story that is unfolding in front of me. But for most Americans, it may be less clear on how to effectively respond to this sort of virulent, racist outburst.

With incidents like this being reported more and more across the country, we reached out to American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which offers bystander intervention training for people who witness racism. 

In an interview with A Plus, Lucy Duncan, who runs webinars and training sessions on bystander intervention for AFSC, explained the best way to handle situations like the one that arose in Fresh Kitchen.

"The important thing is to always focus on the person that's being harassed," she explained. "In an incident like that, depending on what they are doing, I'd try and make eye contact with them so they have some idea that they are being supported."

If Duncan were at the Manhattan restaurant, she said she probably would have reminded the man that most people who live here have come from someplace else, and they have a right to speak any way that they choose. In similar incidents, she said, it's good to focus on staying calm and being sure the person being harassed knows they have support. Keeping your voice at a certain level is important, as well as making eye contact with other people who are there to see if they will join you in intervening.

"A real guideline that we have is don't call the police," Duncan said. "That could make it a lot less safe for the person that's being harassed."

In a follow-up, Duncan explained that often times people who are victims in these incidents — people of color, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community — tend to have negative experiences with law enforcement as well. The one exception she offered to this guideline is if the person actually asks someone to call the police on their behalf. Otherwise, she suggests coalescing with the other people who are around to make the harasser feel outnumbered. Get between them if you can and it feels safe, and do your best to stay calm and focused.

"It's really important that people speak up and don't do nothing," Duncan said.

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.