Yusef Hawkins was a 16-year-old Brooklyn boy who was killed in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York by an angry white mob on August 23, 1989. The town was a predominantly Italian neighborhood that became the center of attention and the target of several race-related protests.
Hawkins had traveled to Bensonhurst that night with three friends to inquire about a used 1982 Pontiac automobile that was for sale. The group’s attackers had been lying in wait for either African-American or Latino youths they believed were dating a neighborhood girl. Hawkins and his friends walked onto the ambushers’ block unaware of the local situation. Hawkins was shot in the chest two times. After investigation, police reported that Hawkins was not involved with any of the girls in neighborhood.
Hawkins’ death was the third killing of a black man by white mobs in New York City during the 1980s; the other two victims were 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 New York City in the ensuing days and weeks, culminating in a protest march through the neighborhood led by the Reverend Al Sharpton.
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. After the acquittal of John Veto another man he participated in the incident, Rev. Al Sharpton led a demonstration in 1991; he was stabbed and seriously wounded by Michael Riccardi in a Bensonhurst schoolyard. Sharpton later fully recovered.