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Crime News Black Lives Matter

Decades-Old Murder Of Black Teenager Yusuf Hawkins Will Be Focus Of New HBO Documentary

"Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn" comes amid ongoing protests spurred by the deaths of Black men like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.

By Connor Mannion
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HBO is set to release a new documentary on the 1989 murder of Black teenager Yusuf Hawkins, "Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn" which will inform viewers about his shocking death and the impact it had on racial relations in New York City.

Hawkins, 16, was shot to death in an attack from a mob of 10 to 30 white teenagers in the prominently Italian-American neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. They were allegedly waiting to attack Black or Hispanic youths they believed were dating a white girl in the neighborhood, according to an archived 1989 report from The New York Times. Hawkins was not involved with this girl and had simply come to the neighborhood with friends to buy a used car.

His death inflamed racial tensions in New York, inciting a civil rights march led by Rev. Al Sharpton through the neighborhood, according to another archived report from The New York Times.

Two ringleaders out of the group of 30 — Joseph Fama and Keith Mondello — were ultimately convicted and sentenced in 1990 for killing Hawkins, The Washington Post reported at the time. While Fama received a sentence of 30 years to life for fatally shooting Hawkins, Mondello received a sentence of five years after being acquitted of the most serious charges. 

Mondello's acquittal led to continuing protests and growing tensions. Sharpton — who became a spokesperson for the Hawkins family — himself was stabbed in 1991, according to the New York Daily News.

Ultimately, the racial violence led to some changes in New York City: then-Mayor Ed Koch lost a primary battle to David Dinkins, who went on to become the first Black mayor of New York City.

The director of the film, Muta’Ali Muhammad, called attention to how Hawkins' death at the hands of a racist mob echos the ongoing protests against the treatment of Black people in the United States to this very day.

“It’s important to remember Yusuf Hawkins, honor his life and be mindful that our martyrs have families who need our love long after the marching subsides,” Muhammad said in a press release. “This film ties together the past and the present showing how racism can rear its head anywhere, even in a liberal city.”

The film itself draws on both archival footage and current interviews. The two friends with Hawkins during the attack are featured, as are defense attorney Stephen Murphy, Sharpton, and even Fama — who is currently incarcerated and seemingly still denies culpability for Hawkins' killing in the trailer for the documentary.

"Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn" is set to premiere on HBO on August 12 at 9 p.m. It will also be available to stream on the new streaming service HBO Max.