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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.
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 were protecting.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.