Murder of Yusef Hawkins

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Yusef Hawkins
Born(1973-03-19)March 19, 1973
DiedAugust 23, 1989 (1989-08-24) (aged 16)
Cause of deathHomicide by firearm
CitizenshipUnited States
Known forMurder victim

Yusuf Kirriem Hawkins (also spelled as Yusuf Hawkins, March 19, 1973 – August 23, 1989) was a 16-year-old black teenager from East New York, Brooklyn[1] who was shot to death on August 23, 1989, in Bensonhurst, a predominantly 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.[2][3]


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

Hawkins had gone 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 black youths they believed had dated a neighborhood girl. Hawkins and his friends walked onto the ambushers' block unaware that local residents were preparing racist attacks against black youth. After the murder of Hawkins, police said that he had not in any way been involved with the neighborhood girl whom the killers believed Hawkins was dating.[2]

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 series of protest marches through the neighborhood led by the Reverend Al Sharpton.[4][5]


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.[6] The acquittal of Mondello on the most serious charges led to further protest marches through Bensonhurst led by Al Sharpton.[7]

On June 11, 1990, sentences were handed down in the Hawkins case. 19-year-old Fama received a sentence of 32⅓ years to life in prison. Mondello, also 19, received a sentence of 5⅓ to 16 years in prison.[8]

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.

Shortly 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.[9] Riccardi was convicted of first-degree assault and sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison, despite a plea for leniency by Sharpton himself, who believed that distorted news coverage of his activities had influenced his attacker.[10]

Release of Mondello[edit]

After serving eight years in the Attica Correctional Facility, Keith Mondello was released on June 2, 1998. 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.[11] 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.[12]

Memorials and tributes[edit]

  • A faded mural painted soon after Hawkins' death is still visible on the side of a building on Verona Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.[13] It was repainted in August 2011 by street artist Gabriel Specter.[14]
  • Spike Lee's film Jungle Fever is dedicated to the memory of Hawkins, and Hawkins's photograph appears at the beginning of the film.
  • The song Snacks and Candy by the band Miracle Legion was written about this event.
  • The song Slipping into Darkness by Queen Mother Rage was dedicated to Hawkins.
  • The song Welcome to the Terrordome by Public Enemy includes a dedication to Hawkins.
  • The song Intro on the album The Devil Made Me Do It by Paris includes a sample from a new broadcast referencing the shooting.
  • The song "Wrong Pot 2 Piss In" by The Goats includes the line: "My man Rodney King would love a swing / and if Yusuf Hawkins was walkin' he'd say the same thing".
  • The song Treat 'em Right by Chubb Rock refers to Hawkins in the first verse.
  • Tupac Shakur wrote a poem about Yusuf's death, For Mrs. Hawkins. He also mentions him in the song Tearz of a Clown in the fourth verse.
  • The film Blind Faith was dedicated to the memory of Hawkins.
  • The song Learn Truth by R.A. the Rugged Man mentions Willie Turks, Michael Griffith, and Yusef Hawkins.
  • The song Gas Face (remix) by 3rd Bass refers to Hawkins in the second verse.
  • Kool G Rap's hit single Erase Racism (featuring Big Daddy Kane) referenced Hawkins where Kane performs the second half of the song.
  • Double XX Posse mentions Yusef in their first album Put Ya Boots On (1992), 2nd track the Headcracker. The group gives a list of things that would be considered "Headcrackers" or very shocking and upsetting. Among other things they mention "Yusef Hawkins being murdered is a HEADCRACKER"
  • Brand Nubian's "Concerto in X Minor" mentions Hawkins.


  1. ^ "5 Things To Know About 'Storm Over Brooklyn,' A New Doc On Yusuf Hawkins". Essence Magazine. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Blumenthal, Ralph (August 25, 1989). "Black Youth Is Killed by Whites; Brooklyn Attack Is Called Racial". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2007.
  3. ^ Lorrin Anderson & William Tucker (June 25, 1990). "Cracks in the mosaic – Bensonhurst incident case". National Review. Archived from the original on September 9, 2009. Retrieved September 15, 2007.
  4. ^ Ravo, Nick (August 27, 1989). "Marchers and Brooklyn Youths Trade Racial Jeers". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Chan, Sewell (August 21, 2009). "The Death of Yusuf Hawkins, 20 Years Later". City Room. The New York Times Company. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  6. ^ Kurtz, Howard. "Bensonhurst Ringleader Acquitted on Murder Counts" The Washington Post May 19, 1990, A1.
  7. ^ Kifner, John (May 20, 1990). "BENSONHURST AFTERMATH; After 2d Bensonhurst Verdict, A March Amid Cries for Calm". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Kurtz, Howard. "Bensonhurst Defendants Receive Maximum Terms" The Washington Post, June 12, 1992, A1.
  9. ^ Mcfadden, Robert D. (January 13, 1991). "Sharpton Is Stabbed at Bensonhurst Protest". The New York Times.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Associated Press, "2 Sides Meet in '89 Racial Killing" The New York Times, January 22, 1999, p. B6.
  12. ^ Blanco, Juan Ignacio. "Joseph Fama | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers".
  13. ^ Mural on Verona Place likely eulogizing 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins Archived October 17, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Forgotten NY (website), accessed September 4, 2006
  14. ^ Wooster Collective – Decaying Yusuf Hawkins memorial mural renewed by Gabriel Specter

External links[edit]