Today is the 24th anniversary of the shooting death of Yusef Hawkins. At the time of his death, Hawkins was 16 years old.
On August 23, 1989, Hawkins and three of his friends visited Bensonhurst to check out a car that was for sale. The group was ambushed by a large group of youths who, according to reports at the time, were waiting to attack Hispanic or black kids that they believed were trying to date a local Bensonhurst girl. Hawkins and his friends were attacked with baseball bats, which eventually led to Hawkins being shot to death by Joseph Fama.
A New York Times report from August 25, 1989, described the murder:
At about 9 P.M. Wednesday, Mr. Hawkins and his friends got off the N train at 20th Avenue and 64th Street. They were on their way to meet the owner of a 1982 Pontiac at 1965 Bay Ridge Avenue. Mr. Banner was considering buying the car for $900.
They stopped in a candy store to buy batteries, film and candy and walked south on 20th Avenue, passing the four-story apartment house where Miss Feliciano lives at 6801 20th Avenue.
The white youths were gathered outside Miss Feliciano’s house, waiting to see who might visit her. From the items recovered later, at least seven youths were armed with baseball bats and at least one had a gun. Witnesses reported no exchange of words between the two groups before the shooting, which took place outside 2007 Bay Ridge Avenue. The bats were not used, but four shots were fired, two striking Mr. Hawkins in the chest.
Elizabeth Galarza, 32, who lives at 6818 20th Avenue, said she heard three shots about 9:20 P.M., along with cries of ”Bobby, Bobby, oh my God, he’s dead.” The reference to Bobby was not explained.
About 10 minutes later, Mrs. Galarza – who is trained to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation – ran downstairs to find Mr. Hawkins on the ground with two bullet wounds in his chest, she said. He was clutching a candy bar, she added.
”His pulse was still there – it was pretty good on the neck,” she said. ”He was blinking his eyes. He couldn’t talk. I pulled up his T-shirt. I saw two bullet holes in his chest.” ‘Terror in His Eyes’
She went on: ”The young boy clenched my hand. When his pulse stopped, he clenched tight and let go. He was frightened. He had terror in his eyes. He was so young and so frightened. I said, ‘Come on baby. You’ll be fine. Take small breaths. Just relax. God’s with you.’ ”
Mrs. Galarza said she called the police and it took about 15 minutes for a radio car to arrive, but other witnesses said the police arrived within a few minutes. Mr. Hawkins was dead on arrival at Maimonides Medical Center.
Hawkin’s murder set off protests and led to weeks long boiling tensions along racial lines across the city with marches led by Reverend Al Sharpton.
Fama was convicted of second-degree-murder but Keith Mondello, another defendant in the case, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges. Fama, 19, received just over 32 years in prison while Mondello was sentenced between 5 and 16 years on charges including discrimination, riot, and criminal possession of a weapon. Mondello’s lighter sentence set off another wave of protests.
Mondello was eventually released from prison on June 2, 1998. The next year, Mondello apologized to Hawkin’s father on television.
A number of tributes were dedicated to Hawkin’s memory including Spike Lee’s film Jungle Fever, a Tupac Shakur poem, and a Public Enemy song.
If Hawkins had lived, he would be 40 years old today.