August 23rd, 1989

Black Teen Murdered by White Mob in Brooklyn, New York

On August 23, 1989, 16-year-old Yusef Hawkins and three friends went to the predominately white Bensonhurt section of Brooklyn, New York, to inquire about a used Pontiac for sale. On their way through the neighborhood, the three black boys encountered a group of 30 white youths gathered in the street. Armed with baseball bats and at least one handgun, the mob set upon the three boys. While his companions managed to escape the attack without serious injury, Yusef was shot twice in the chest and later pronounced dead at nearby Maimonides Medical Center.

Later investigation revealed that a neighborhood girl, Gina Feliciano, had recently spurned the advances of a young white man in the neighborhood and was rumored to be dating an African American. Angry, the rejected white boy gathered friends to lay in wait for the black boyfriend they believed would be visiting Ms. Feliciano. Yusef Hawkins walked into this scene of racial tension.

Hawkins’s death was the third murder of a black male by a white mob in the 1980s in New York, where racial tensions were high. Shortly after the slaying, the Reverend Al Sharpton led a protest march through Bensonhurst. Neighborhood residents met the protesters with such intense resistance that one marcher said she had “not been through an experience like this since the 60s.” A year after Hawkins’s murder, 18-year-old Joseph Fama was convicted of second degree murder and a string of lesser charges and sentenced to 32 years in prison. Five other participants were charged in connection with Hawkins's murder and received lesser sentences.