City Co-Names Brooklyn Street After Black Teen Murdered In Racially Motivated Killing

A block in Bedford-Stuyvesant has been renamed after Yusuf Hawkins, a Black teenager shot to death following a confrontation with a white mob in August 1989, contributing to increased racial tensions in the city at the time.

On Friday, on the day that would have marked Hawkins’s 48th birthday, his family, activists and local politicians gathered to co-name the corner of Verona Place and Fulton Street the Yusuf Kirreim Hawkins Way. Hawkins had lived near the Brooklyn neighborhood at the time of his death. The street corner is also the same location as a mural drawn in his memory.

“I’m so happy and grateful that this is happening today,” said Diane Hawkins, Yusuf’s mother.

Hawkins, who was 16 at the time, had gone with a group of friends to Bensonhurst, which was a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood at the time, to shop for a used car. They were surrounded and attacked by young white men, some of whom falsely believed Hawkins was dating a girl who lived in the neighborhood. The mob, made up of roughly 20 to 30 white teens, had attacked Hawkins and his friends after walking into one of the streets.

Joseph Fama, then 19, was charged with second-degree murder for firing the two shots that killed Hawkins, who was rushed to Maimonedes Medical Center where he died. Fama was eventually tried and sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.

The incident—which came after two other high-profile cases involving racially motivated attacks in the 1980s—set off protests in the area, including one led by the Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991 in which he was stabbed. The event is also believed to have contributed to Mayor Edward Koch’s defeat in his run for a fourth term and the rise of Mayor David Dinkins, the city’s first and thus far only Black mayor.

Yusuf Kirriem Hawkins was a sixteen year old boy. His biggest crime is that he went to a neighborhood that judged him by…

Posted by Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. on Friday, March 19, 2021

At the renaming ceremony, Hawkins’s cousin, Darlene Brown, said the family is grateful that his memory continues to live on.

“From day one it’s been overwhelming for the family, but for the most part I just thank God that he will still live on, when we’re not here, because he leaves the Hawkins name on the map,” she said.

Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. led the renaming effort in the City Council. He described Hawkins as a “bright young man with limitless potential” and said his story inspired a wave of activism that preceded the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to NY1, the move to rename a street after Hawkins came shortly after an HBO documentary, “Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn”, detailing Hawkins’ murder, aired last year.

“It never stops: this fight against racism, this fight against bigotry, this fight for our humanity as Black people,” he said.

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