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The Reverend Al Sharpton leading the first protest march over the death of Yusef Hawkins in Bensonhurst, 1989.

Yusef Hawkins (also spelled as Yusuf Hawkins) was a 16-year-old African American youth who was shot to death on August 23, 1989 in Bensonhurst, a heavily Italian American working-class neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Hawkins and three friends were attacked by a crowd of 10 to 30 white youths, with at least seven of them wielding baseball bats. One, armed with a handgun, shot Hawkins twice in the chest, killing him.[1][2]

Hawkins had gone to Bensonhurst that night with his three friends to inquire about a used 1982 Pontiac automobile that was for sale. The group's attackers had been lying in wait for black or Hispanic youths they believed were dating a white neighborhood girl. Police later said Hawkins was not involved with the girl.[1]

Hawkins' killing was the third killing of a black man by mobs in New York City during the 1980s; the other two victims being Willie Turks who was killed on June 22, 1982 in Brooklyn and Michael Griffith who was killed in Queens on December 20, 1986. The incident uncorked a torrent of racial tension in and around New York City in the ensuing days and weeks, culminating in a protest march through the neighborhood led by the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Contents

Trials

The two men who led the mob that beat and chased Hawkins were tried separately. Joseph Fama, the man who fired the shots that killed Hawkins, was convicted of second-degree murder on May 17, 1990. The other main defendant in the case, Keith Mondello was acquitted on May 18, 1990 on murder and manslaughter charges, but convicted of 12 lesser charges including riot, menacing, discrimination, unlawful imprisonment and criminal possession of a weapon[3]. The acquittal of Mondello on these serious charges led to further protest marches through Bensonhurst led by Al Sharpton.

Sentencing

On June 11, 1990, sentences were handed down in the Hawkins case. 19-year-old Fama received a sentence of 32 1/3 years in prison. Mondello, also 19, received a sentence of 5 1/3 to 16 years in prison[4].

Other defendants

Other members of the gang that chased and beat Hawkins were tried as well. John Vento was convicted of unlawful imprisonment and received a sentence of 2 to 8 years in August, 1990 and was released in 1998. A fourth man, Joseph Serrano, was convicted on the charge of unlawfully possessing a weapon and sentenced to 300 hours of community service on January 11, 1991. The acquittal of Vento on a murder charge, and the light sentence handed out to Serrano sparked more protests by the African-American community in Bensonhurst. Before that march was set to begin, on January 12, 1991 Al Sharpton was stabbed and seriously wounded by Michael Riccardi in a Bensonhurst schoolyard. Sharpton later recovered from his wounds.

Release of Mondello

After serving eight years in Attica Correctional Facility, Keith Mondello was released on June 2, 1998, to the dismay of the Hawkins family. On January 22, 1999, Mondello and Hawkins' father, Moses Stewart, met in a NY1 television studio, where Mondello apologized for his role in the killing[5]. Stewart died at the age of 48 in 2003. Fama is not eligible for parole until 2022, when he will be just over 50 years old.

Memorials

  • Spike Lee's film Jungle Fever is dedicated to the memory of Hawkins, and Hawkins' photograph appears at the beginning of the film.
  • A faded mural painted soon after Hawkins' death is still visible on the side of a building on Verona Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant.[6]
  • The song "Snacks and Candy" by the band Miracle Legion was written about this event.

External links

References

  1. ^ a b Blumenthal, Ralph (1989-08-25). "Black Youth Is Killed by Whites; Brooklyn Attack Is Called Racial". The New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0714FC3E5E0C768EDDA10894D1484D81&showabstract=1. Retrieved 2007-09-15.  
  2. ^ Lorrin Anderson & William Tucker (1990-06-25). "Cracks in the mosaic - Bensonhurst incident case". National Review. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n12_v42/ai_9119701/. Retrieved 2007-09-15.  
  3. ^ Kurtz, Howard. "Bensonhurst Ringleader Acquitted on Murder Counts" The Washington Post 19 May, 1990, A1.
  4. ^ Kurtz, Howard. "Bensonhurst Defendants Receive Maximum Terms" The Washington Post, 12 June, 1990, A1.
  5. ^ Associated Press, "2 Sides Meet in '89 Racial Killing" The New York Times, 22 January 1999, p. B6.
  6. ^ ForgottenNY - Mural on Verona Place likely eulogizing 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins, accessed September 4, 2006
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