Death of Yusef Hawkins

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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, March 19, 1973 – August 23, 1989) was a 16-year-old African-American 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.[1][2]

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 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. After the murder of Mr. Hawkins, police said that he was not in any way involved with the neighborhood girl whose honor the killers felt they were protecting.[1]

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


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.[4]

Other defendants[edit]

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.

Release of Mondello[edit]

After serving eight years in 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.[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.


Mural of Hawkins in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, 2012.
  • 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] It was repainted in August 2011 by street artist Gabriel Specter.[7]
  • 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, in conclusion, to Hawkins
  • The song "Welcome to the Terrordome" by Public Enemy includes a dedication to Hawkins ("First nothing's worse than a mother's pain/Of a son slain in Bensonhurst/Can't wait for the state to decide the fate/So this jam I dedicate")
  • The song "Treat 'em Right" by Chubb Rock has the following reference in the first verse: "In your hearts and minds never forget Yusef Hawkins". (VML, 01Jul11)
  • 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: "Has anybody here seen Yusef Hawkins? I thought I seen him talking with Malcolm walking. Where? Over the rainbow? Nah, over the trap, another murdered brother now where's the pay back?".
  • The film Blind Faith was dedicated to the memory of Hawkins.
  • The song Learn Truth, R.A. The Ruggedman brings notice to Yusef Hawkins and others with the lines, "Bodies in coffins, political extortions, racist mobs murdering, Willie Turks, Michael Griffith and Yusef Hawkins."
  • The song "Gas Face (remix)" by 3rd Bass has the following reference in the 2nd verse: "Silence for Yusef Hawkins being slain".

External links[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Lorrin Anderson & William Tucker (June 25, 1990). "Cracks in the mosaic – Bensonhurst incident case". National Review. Retrieved September 15, 2007. [dead link]
  3. ^ Kurtz, Howard. "Bensonhurst Ringleader Acquitted on Murder Counts" The Washington Post May 19, 1990, A1.
  4. ^ Kurtz, Howard. "Bensonhurst Defendants Receive Maximum Terms" The Washington Post, June 12, 1992, A1.
  5. ^ Associated Press, "2 Sides Meet in '89 Racial Killing" The New York Times, January 22, 1999, p. B6.
  6. ^ ForgottenNY – Mural on Verona Place likely eulogizing 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins, accessed September 4, 2006
  7. ^ Wooster Collective – Decaying Yusuf Hawkins memorial mural renewed by Gabriel Specter