Yusef Hawkins was only 16 years old when he died. Like so many others before him, he died a victim of a reality beyond his control: racial violence. Hawkins, a black youth from the East New York section of Brooklyn, was shot to death after being confronted by a racist mob of white boys in Brooklyn's predominantly Italian Bensonhurst neighborhood.
Hawkins was in Bensonhurst to look at a used car on the night he was killed. The boys who killed him thought he was the boyfriend of a white neighborhood woman who had broken off a relationship with one of the white youths and had started dating black and Puerto Rican men. The woman had planned a birthday party at her home that night which her black and Puerto Rican friends were planning to attend, but the party was canceled as word spread that some neighborhood youths were planning to start trouble. The white youths did not know the party had been canceled.
By the time Hawkins arrived at the street where the woman lived, a mob of 10 to 30 white youths wielding baseball bats and other weapons had assembled. At least one had a gun. Hawkins was chased, surrounded, and shot. The youths had no idea who Hawkins was, or whether or not he knew this woman. They were prepared to harm a person of color. Anyone would do.
Because of the national media attention Hawkins' death has attracted, the nation is forced to ponder -- once again -- just how sick it really is. Even more tragic is the gap separating the good intentions of some whites and the increasing rage of most blacks, a gap that Hawkins' death puts into stark contrast.