Yusuf Hawkins HBO doc ‘Storm over Brooklyn’ to air in August

Before hashtags, this racial murder roiled New York City and furthered the Rev. Al Sharpton's activism

Yusuf Hawkins thegrio.com
(Credit: Hawkins Family)

Well before anyone knew the names of Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, and George Floyd, there were other names – Emmett Till, Michael Griffith, and Yusuf Hawkins. While the world knows that Till was the victim of a racially motivated murder, Griffith and Hawkins’ murders have faded in the annals of racial injustice.

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Hawkins is the subject of a new documentary Yusef Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn directed by Muta’Ali Muhammad that premiered it at the American Black Film Festival in 2018. It won the first ABFF Lightbox Documentary Initiative and was picked up by HBO.

Hawkins, 16, was killed on August 23, 1989, when he went to the then predominantly Italian Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York to see about purchasing a used Pontiac. Instead, he was beaten and shot by a mob of white men who mistakenly thought he was dating a white woman from the neighborhood.

The case became a national sensation when Rev. Al Sharpton got involved. He had come to national prominence after his activism in the 1984 Bernhard Goetz case when a white man shot four Black teenagers on a New York subway and was acquitted of all but firearms charges, and by leading protests for Griffith, who was chased to his death across a Queens, New York highway by a white mob.

Sharpton was also prominent in the Tawana Brawley case, when an African-American teenager from Wappingers Falls, New York, accused four white men of raping her.

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Sharpton led the protests, though Brawley’s story was largely discredited after a grand jury investigation. By then, Sharpton gained a reputation as a champion for African-American rights and led protests in Bensonhurst for justice for Hawkins.

The Rev. Al Sharpton leads a protest march in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn after the murder of Yusuf Hawkins (Photo by Christian Razukas
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Eight white men were ultimately charged for Hawkins’ murder. Only two did jail time – ringleader Joseph Fama, then 19, who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and remains in jail until 2022. Keith Mondello was convicted on lesser charges including riot, menacing, discrimination, unlawful imprisonment and criminal possession of a weapon. He served eight years and was released in 1998.

Yusef Hawkins: Storm over Brooklyn debuts on HBO on August 12.

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