The Tragic Death Of Yusuf Hawkins

Yusuf Hawkins was just 16 years old when he was gunned down by an angry mob of white teens in Brooklyn, New York, on August 23, 1989. The tragedy of the young African American's death is compounded by the fact that it was perpetrated by a group of jealous men who were specifically waiting for Black males to come to their neighborhood so that they could attack them, according to Time.

New York Times story written after the murder in 1989 says that Hawkins went with three other Black friends from their home in East New York to the Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn to look into buying a used car. The friends ranged in age from 16 to 18. On the way, they stopped at a candy store, then continued to walk through the neighborhood to see the car. 

The teens couldn't know that drama had been percolating in the predominately Italian neighborhood, as a local girl was said to be dating a Black or Hispanic boy. 

That girl, named as Gina Feliciano by the New York Times, had recently rejected the advances of Keith Mondello, an 18-year-old that would later be charged in the crime. Mondello and about 10 to 30 other young males in the neighborhood formed a group with the intention to attack the new boyfriend of color who they expected to show up at a party Feliciano was throwing, per the New York Times. 

Several in the group were armed with baseball bats — and someone had a gun. 

Yusuf Hawkins 'clutched a candy bar' as he lay dying

The New York Times reported witnesses said there was no exchange of words between the groups before four gunshots were fired. Two of those bullets hit Yusuf Hawkins in the chest. Another teen was grazed. The other two got away. 

A neighbor named Elizabeth Galarza went to the scene about 10 minutes after she heard the shooting and described Hawkins' last moments. He was "clutching a candy bar," she told the New York Times. 

Galarza told the paper in 1989, "The young boy clenched my hand. When his pulse stopped, he clenched tight and let go. He was frightened. He had terror in his eyes. He was so young and so frightened. I said, 'Come on baby. You'll be fine. Take small breaths. Just relax. God's with you.'"

In the end, two young men were accused of the shooting, but only one was convicted. According to The City, Mondello was acquitted of murder and manslaughter but was convicted of lesser charges and released from prison in 1998. 

A 19-year-old named Joseph Fama was convicted of second-degree murder in May 1990. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison. According to the New York Department of Corrections, Fama is eligible for parole in April 2022. 

The Washington Post reported that Yusuf Hawkins' father, Moses J. Stewart, told radio station WLIB, ”To see my son's life wasted because of some indiscriminatory fool with a gun in his hands who saw nothing but a Black man is a very, very vile thing to me.”