The incident that set off the 1991 Crown Heights riots was easy to pinpoint: on Aug. 19, a car driven by a Hasidic Jew hit and killed a young black child. As a private ambulance took the driver away from the scene and emergency responders worked to free the victim and another child pinned under the car, the area’s black and Jewish residents–who had long been tense neighbors–erupted in anger. As TIME later noted, the result was the worst episode of racial violence in New York City city since 1968, after the death of Martin Luther King.
But as with any cataclysmic event, the underlying causes of the riots were far more complicated than a single moment.
As TIME’s story on the riots explained, the side-by-side life of the two communities in Crown Heights was already tense—and the fighting did little to diffuse the situation:
Read more from 1991, here in the TIME Vault: An Eye for an Eye