What Happened to Yusef Hawkins? A Look at the 1989 Killing Ahead of HBO's “Storm Over Brooklyn” Documentary

A mural of Yusef Hawkins in Brooklyn, New York.
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HBO is set to air the documentary “Yusef Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn,” Wednesday night and the film chronicles the death of a Black teen in the white neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, in the late 1980s.

In August 1989, Yusef Hawkins, 16, and three friends with whom he grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, traveled to the Italian-American section of Bensonhurst. There, they were stopped by white group from the neighborhood. The group from Bensonhurst were said to be harassing Black men rumored to be dating white girls from the area, according to reports.

Prosecutors said the white group attacked the four teenagers and Hawkins was fatally shot in the melee.

Joseph Fama, 19, who shot Hawkins, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1990. Keith Mondello, also 19, was acquitted on that same year on murder and manslaughter charges, but convicted of 12 lesser charges including riot, menacing, discrimination, unlawful imprisonment and criminal possession of a weapon.

Fama received a sentence of 32 years and 8 months to life in prison. Mondello received a sentence of 5 and one-third to 16 years in prison.

Hawkins' death was touched on in the Spike Lee film “Jungle Fever,” where the auteur paid homage to the teenager at the start of the film.

In the aftermath of Hawkins’ killing, protests and racial tensions hit fever pitch as clashes between Black New Yorkers and white New Yorkers became common.

“Storm Over Brooklyn” features interviews with Hawkins’ family as well as Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped raise awareness of Hawkins death and led protest marches.

The HBO documentary comes as the nation is still coming to grips with the racially charged killings of Black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

“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,” director Muta’Ali Muhammad said in a statement. “This film ties together the past and the present showing how racism can rear its head anywhere, even in a liberal city.”

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