Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old Brooklyn boy, was killed August 23, 1989 in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York by an angry white mob. Bensonhurst, a predominantly Italian neighborhood, became the center of attention and the target of several race-related protests led by religious and civic leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton.
On that fateful day, Hawkins and two friends went to Bensonhurst to see about purchasing a used 1982 Pontiac. Once there, Keith Mondello, then 19, and a reported 10 to 30 others armed with baseball bats, golf clubs, and other weapons ambushed them.
Mondello was the ringleader of the mob, who incorrectly thought that Hawkins was there to confront him. Mondello had a conflict with a crack addict who had threatened him.
Over the years, the specifics have changed, but what is generally understood is that a gunman in the group fired four shots and struck Hawkins twice in the chest. Mondello and alleged gunman Joey Fama were charged as the leaders of the mob.
Fama was convicted of second-degree murder May 17, 1990. Mondello was acquitted of murder chargers on May 18 of that year, but convicted on 12 other charges including riot, menacing and discrimination among others.
Mondello’s acquittal led Sharpton to further ramp up protest efforts, after already marching dozens of times in Bensonhurst since August 25th of that year. The racial tensions in Brooklyn and across the nation were high, and the climate helped lead to the election of David Dinkins as New York City’s first Black mayor.
In January 1991, Sharpton was stabbed by a Bensonhurst man named Michael Riccardi. Sharpton spoke at Riccardi’s attempted murder trial and asked the judge to be lenient. Mondello was paroled in 1998, and in recent years, he has expressed remorse for his role in the death of Hawkins.
Now married and a sociologist, Mondello told the New York Daily News that the death of Hawkins left him with a “broken heart.” Fama, on the other hand, claims that he was not the shooter. Regardless, he is still behind bars, and won’t be eligible for parole until 2020. Hawkins’ mother, Diane, says she has not forgiven her son’s killers.