December 20th, 1986

Young Black Man Killed After Being Chased by White Mob in Howard Beach, New York

On December 20, 1986, 23-year-old Michael Griffith and friends Cedric Sandiford and Timothy Grimes were traveling from Brooklyn to Queens in New York, New York. When their car broke down in Howard Beach, a predominantly white, middle-class Queens neighborhood, the three young black men walked to a local restaurant and asked to use the phone. They were refused and sat down at a table where they were soon confronted by a group of white teenagers. After a brief verbal altercation, the white teens left to attend a party, where one announced: “There’s some niggers in the pizza parlor -- let’s go kill them.”

When Griffith, Sandiford, and Grimes exited the restaurant soon after, the white teens returned with baseball bats and tree limbs. Grimes ran fast enough to escape the attack but Griffith and Sandiford were brutally beaten. Fleeing the blows, Griffith ran into traffic on the busy Belt Parkway and was struck and killed by a car. The attack against Sandiford continued even as Griffith lay dying.

When Queens District Attorney John Santucci charged the three teens responsible for Griffth’s death with reckless endangerment, he was accused of misconduct and removed from the case. New York Governor Mario Cuomo then appointed special prosecutor Charles Hynes to investigate the murder. Scott Kern, Jason Ladone, and Jon Lester were convicted in the attack. Judge Thomas Demakos sentenced Kern to 6-18 years imprisonment; Jason Ladone to 5-15 years; and Jon Lester, the accused instigator, to 10-30 years. While passing down his rulings, Judge Demakos asked, “What kind of individual do I have before me who, after witnessing a young black man get crushed by a car, continues his reckless conduct by savagely beating another black male with a bat?”

(Crowd heckles civil rights leaders marching against racism in Howard Beach on December 27, 1986. Gotham City Insider.)


December 20th, 2013

Alabama Federal Court Upholds Republican Redistricting Plan that Reduces Black Voting Power

On December 20, 2013, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ruled against the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus, upholding the state legislature’s controversial redistricting plan. In Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, plaintiffs argued that the Republican-led redistricting process, the decennial task of reorganizing legislative district lines to comply with U.S. Census data, constituted racial gerrymandering by packing black voters into already majority-black districts. This makes it harder to elect Democrats outside of the overly-majority black districts, diluting black voting power in the state.

After Republicans gained control of the Alabama legislature in 2010, their party became the main organizer of the redistricting efforts. The resulting proposal called for the number of majority-black districts to increase to twenty-eight in the House, and to eight in the Senate, while the number of majority-white districts in which black residents represent over 25 percent of the population decreased from eleven to six. This decrease reduced the number of districts where black residents have significant influence at the state level, making it more difficult to get bills from majority-black districts approved in Montgomery.

In his dissenting opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson lamented the redistricting plan’s effect and intent in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby Co. v. Holder, which ruled Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. “Even as it was asking the Supreme Court to strike down” Section 5 (of the Voting Rights Act) “for failure to speak to current conditions,” Judge Thompson wrote, “the State of Alabama was relying on racial quotas with absolutely no evidence that they had anything to do with current conditions, and seeking to justify those quotas with the very provision it was helping to render inert.”

On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would review the case in its fall 2014 term, and on March 25, 2015, the Court in a 5-4 decision vacated the lower court's ruling, siding with black and Democratic lawmakers who said the state legislature relied too heavily on race in its redistricting plan.