YUSUF HAWKINS: 30 YEARS LATER

October 10, 2019 at 4:30 am

In 1989, a black teen, Yusuf Hawkins, was fatally shot after being chased by a white mob in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Now, an enterprising journalist returns to the scene to find a community changed and memories fading.

Aired on October 9, 2019. 

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>>> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO
"METROFOCUS."
I'M JACK FORD.
BENSO
BENSONHURST, BROOKLYN, 1989.
FOR MANY IT CONJURES MEMORIES OF
ONE OF THE MOST PAINFUL RACIAL
INCIDENTS IN NEW YORK CITY'S
HISTORY.
THE KILLING OF 16-YEAR-OLD YUSEF
HAWKINS.
HAWKINS, A BLACK TEEN, WAS SET
UPON BY A WHITE MOB AND FATALLY
SHOT.
HIS COLD-BLOODED MURDER
HORRIFIED THE CITY AND THE
COUNTRY, SETTING OFF MONTHS OF
PROTEST MARCHES AND PAYCHECKING
THE WAY FOR THE ELECTION OF NEW
YORK'S FIRST BLACK MAYOR, DAVID
DINKINS.
THE NAME BENSONHURST BECAUSE A
NATIONAL SYMBOL OF HATE.
IN THE 30 YEARS SINCE HAWKINS'
DEATH, THE ONCE-HEAVILY ITALIAN
NEIGHBORHOOD HAS DIVERSIFIED.
SEEKING TO FIND OUT HOW THE
TRAGEDY IS REMEMBERED, THE NEWS
OUTLET "THE CITY" TRAVELED TO
INVESTIGATE.
AND WE HAVE MORE ON THE FININGS.
NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE WITH US.
>> THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING
ME.
>> LET'S SET THE STAGE FOR OUR
VIEWERS.
30 YEARS AGO, I REMEMBER, I WAS
JUST STARTING IN TELEVISION
NEWS.
AS A MATTER OF FACT, I WAS
WORKING AS A LEGAL ANALYST FOR
CHANNEL 2 NEWS HERE IN NEW YORK
CITY.
SO I REMEMBER THE STORY.
BUT JUST THE -- GIVE US A SENSE
OF HOW THIS PLAYED OUT AS A
BACKDROP TO YOUR INVESTIGATION
AND OUR CONVERSATION.
>> YEAH.
SO ON AUGUST 23rd, 1989, YUSEF
HAWKINS AND THREE OF HIS BUDDIES
GOT OFF THE N TRAIN ON 20th
AVENUE.
HE WAS LOOKING TO BUY A USED
POINTS IN 82 PONTIAC -- USED
1982 PONTIAC.
HE WAS ENGULFED, SURROUNDED BY
WHITE TEENAGERS WHO SEVERAL OF
THEM WERE -- HAD BASEBALL BATS,
GOLF CLUBS, AND JUST WITHIN A
FEW BLOCKS THEY HAD SURROUNDED
HIM.
AND A GUNMAN, THE GUNMAN, JOSEPH
FAMMA, SHOT HIM TWICE IN THE
CHEST.
>> TALK ABOUT WHAT THE
BENSONHURST NEIGHBORHOOD WAS
LIKE THEN.
ITS COMPLEXION, IF YOU WILL, ITS
COMPOSITION 30 YEARS AGO.
>> SO IT WAS A PREDOMINANTLY
WHITE, WORKING CLASS, ITALIAN
NEIGHBORHOOD.
PI
PIZZERIAS EVERYWHERE, A MAJORITY
HOMEOWNER NEIGHBORHOOD, AS WELL.
THE COMPLEXION OF THAT
NEIGHBORHOOD HAS CHANGED
INTENSELY SINCE THEN.
BUT BACK THEN, YOU KNOW, ONLY
THREE DAYS AFTER THE SHOOTING,
YOU KNOW, BLACK ORGANIZERS GOT
TOGETHER AND IMMEDIATELY WERE
OFFSET BY PEOPLE YELLING RACIAL
EPITHETS AT THEM, SOME OF THEM
HOLDING --
>> EVEN AFTER THE SHOOTING,
STILL BEING ATTACKED RACIALLY?
>> YEAH.
SOME PEOPLE ACTUALLY HOLDING
WA
WATERMELONS BELIEVE IT OR NOT AS
A FORM OF RIDICULE AT THE TIME.
AND IT SHARPLY DIVIDED THE
NEIGHBORHOOD.
>> WHAT WERE YOU LOOKING FOR?
WHEN THE DECISION WAS MADE --
LET'S TAKE A LOOK, LET'S GO BACK
30 YEARS, BACK TO BENSONHURST.
WHAT WAS THE IDEA?
>> I WANTED TO SEE WHAT THE
NEIGHBORHOOD REMEMBERED.
AND HONESTLY, WHAT I FOUND WAS A
NEIGHBORHOOD THAT HAS DEEPLY
CHANGED.
THERE ARE STILL REMNANTS OF THAT
OLD NEIGHBORHOOD, BUT NOW WE'RE
LOOKING AT A NEIGHBORHOOD THAT'S
55% OF THE POPULATION IS FOREIGN
BORN.
SO MANY OF THEM ARE FROM CHINA,
TURKEY, PAKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN.
AND YOU SEE THESE OLD-SCHOOL
PIZZERIAS, THEY'RE STILL THERE
AND ALL THESE ITALIAN EAT REECE.
ACROSS THE STREET YOU'LL SEE A
HUGE CHINESE BUFFET, A HUGE
TURKISH EATERY AT THE SAME TIME.
AND NOW IT'S ACTUALLY
MINORITY/MAJORITY IN THE SENSE
WHERE IT'S -- I BELIEVE IT'S
ONLY 44% ARE WHITE.
>> WHEN YOU ASK PEOPLE, THIS IS
GENERAL OBVIOUSLY, BUT WHEN YOU
ASKED ABOUT THE HAWKINS
SHOOTING, HOW MANY DID YOU FINDS
ACTUALLY REMEMBERED IT?
WERE AWARE OF IT AT ANY WAY,
SHAPE, OR FORM?
>> I MEAN, DOZENS.
DOZENS, TRULY.
ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO WERE
HOMEOWNERS AND STILL HAVE THEIR
HOMES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
THEY DID REMEMBER THE SHOOTING,
AND THEY DID REMEMBER IN
PARTICULAR THE MARCHES THAT WERE
ORGANIZED BY REVEREND AL
SHARPTON BACK THEN.
BUT WHEN I TALKED TO SOME OF THE
PEOPLE WHO MOVED MORE RECENTLY,
THE MEMORY IS STARTING TO FADE A
BIT.
WE'RE TALKING 30 YEARS LATER, I
TALKED TO ONE INDIVIDUAL WHO WAS
SHOCKED THAT THAT COULD HAPPEN
--
>> I WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT
THAT.
I NOTED THAT, THAT SOMEONE WAS
ESSENTIALLY SAYING TO YOU,
REALLY?
HERE?
I NEVER COULD HAVE IMAGINED --
>> YEAH.
YEAH.
I MEAN, THE DNA OF THE
NEIGHBORHOOD IS MUCH THE SAME.
IT'S SOMEWHERE -- A PLACE WHERE
PEOPLE WANT TO RAISE THEIR
FAMILIES.
WHEN I TALKED TO A LOT OF PEOPLE
WHO MOVED THERE, THE ONE
INDIVIDUAL, MUHAMMAD FROM SYRIA,
HE WAS ABSOLUTELY RATTLED.
WE'RE TALKING ABOUT AN INCIDENT
THAT ABSOLUTELY SHAPED A
NEIGHBORHOOD, DEFINED A
NEIGHBORHOOD FOR IT.
AND IT HAS VERY MUCH CHANGED
SINCE THEN.
AND I THINK WHEN PEOPLE WHO HAVE
MORE RECENTLY IN RECENT YEARS
MOVED TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD,
THEY'RE JUST SURPRISED THAT
SOMETHING LIKE THAT COULD
HAPPEN.
>> SO IT WAS -- WAS YOUR SENSE
AFTER SPENDING TIME THERE, GOING
BACK TO THE RACIAL ANIMUS THAT
EXISTED IN 1989, DID YOU FINDS
ANY SEMBLANCE OF THAT AT ALL?
>> THERE WERE A COUPLE OF PEOPLE
I SPOKE TO WHO FELT THAT THE
MARCHES PAINTED THEIR
NEIGHBORHOOD IN A BAD LIGHT AND
REALLY PUSHED BACK ON THE
SENTIMENT THAT IT WAS A RACIAL
INCIDENT ACTUALLY.
AND THAT IT WAS A RACIST ATTACK.
AND THEY FELT MORE THAT THESE
WERE YOUNG TEENAGERS WHO GOT
INTO A FIGHT.
AND THAT WAS ALL TO IT.
OF COURSE, THAT'S NOT WHAT
EVERYONE SAID.
I TALKED TO ONE FAMILY WHO
ACTUALLY, THEY LIVED ON 20th
AVENUE WHERE THE SHOOTING
OCCURRED, AND THEY LEFT.
THEY ACTUALLY SOLD THEIR HOME.
>> SO AFFECTED BY IT.
>> YEAH.
>> YEAH.
YOU MENTIONED THE -- THE TWO
YOUNG MEN WHO WERE CONVICTED OF
THIS.
THERE'S AN INTERESTING PART OF
THE STORY WHERE YOU TALK ABOUT
KEITH MONDELLA, CONVICTED OF
LESSER OFFENSES, NOT THE
SECOND-DEGREE MURDER.
HE'S STILL IN PRISON.
AND YOU TALK ABOUT A CONTACT
BETWEEN KEITH MONDELLA AND A
FAMILY MEMBER OFU YUSEF HAWKINS.
TELL ME ABOUT THAT.
>> MOZAMSES HAWKINS, HIS FATHER
SENT A LETTER TO THE FAMILY.
RY RECONCILED WITH THE FATHER IN
LATE 1998, AND THEY ACTUALLY GOT
TOGETHER, AND HE APOLOGIZED, AND
THE FATHER ACCEPTED THE APOLOGY.
IT'S A DIFFERENT STORY WHEN IT
COMES TO THE MOTHER.
BUT YEAH, THEY DID RECONCILE
BEFORE THE FATHER PASSED AWAY.
>> WHEN YOU SAY A DIFFERENT
STORY WITH REGARD TO THE MOTHER,
HOW?
>> SHE HAS BEEN QUOTED OVER AND
OVER IN THE ANNIVERSARIES SAYING
THAT THIS IS A WOUND THAT WILL
NEVER HEAL IN HER HEART.
SOMETHING THAT SHE'S GOING TO
TAKE TO THE GRAVE, AND THAT SHE
ACKNOWLEDGES THE APOLOGIES, SHE
DOES NOT ACCEPT THEM.
>> LAST QUESTION FOR YOU.
YOU TALK ABOUT MOTHER, OF
COURSE, REMEMBERING THE DEATH OF
HER SON.
WE TALKED ABOUT HOW MUCH
COVERAGE THIS GOT AT THE TIME.
IT'S INTERESTING I THINK TO SEE
HOW MUCH YUSEF HAWKINS' MEMORY
IS STILL INGRAINED ESPECIALLY IN
SOME LEVELS OF POP CULTURE.
>> YEAH.
>> IT JUST -- HOW IS HE -- HE
HAS HE BEEN REMEMBERED?
HOW HAS HIS MEMORY BEEN KEPT
ALIVE IN MANY WAYS, THROUGH
VARIOUS POP CULTURE MEANS?
>> YEAH.
I THINK YOU CAN DEFINITELY POINT
TO SPIKE LEE'S FILM AS ONE
EXAMPLE.
"DO THE RIGHT THING."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT A NEIGHBORHOOD
THAT REMINDS YOU A LOT OF
BENSONHURST AND COMMUNITIES
CLASHING AND RACIAL TENSIONS
TRULY COMING TO A BOIL, ALSO I
THINK IN FOLLOWING YEARS YOU SAY
HIS NAME LITTERED OVER HIP-HOP
TRACKS EVERYWHERE.
IT WAS SOMETHING THAT HAD REALLY
SHOOK THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
>> WELL, IT -- IT'S A VERY
INTERESTING LOOK BACK.
>> YEAH.
>> AT WHAT -- A DIFFICULT TIME
AND PLACE AND HOW IT'S CHANGED
IN THE PERIOD OF THE THREE
DECADES.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SPENDING
SOME TIME WITH US.
WE APPRECIATE IT.
>> YEAH.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR INVITING
ME.
THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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