I Remember Yusuf Hawkins

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The savage murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, is one of those watershed moments of my youth I recall almost every time someone asks me what it was like to grow up nonwhite in New York City during the ’80s. Hawkins was only 16 when Keith Mondello rounded up a mob of bloodthirsty white boys armed with bats, golf clubs, and guns, all feigning like baseheads to unleash their rage on Hawkins and a couple of his friends. What were they doing in Mondello’s ‘hood on the evening of August 23, 1989, in the first place? They were looking to purchase a used car. That was it.

Hawkins was less than three months older than me. While the Reverend Al Sharpton lead protests (and at one point was stabbed in the chest for taking a stand), and the press coverage on the racially fueled murder made for prime time media fodder, I went on living my life riding on a tidal wave of nervous energy. I felt, intrinsically knew, that the people in my community, the grownups in my city (at least those running things), didn’t place to much value on whether we lived or died: our lives were dispensable.

Twenty-five years later and one Black president richer, not much has changed in our pre-post-racial-society. Young Black and Brown men and women are still being hunted down and sacrificed like animals. People still mobilize, continue to rage and protest, amplify the issues on social media, and eventually return to relative normalcy until the next unjust murder occurs.

It’s excruciating to watch these events unfold time and time again. It’s painful to see our children’s lives and potential wasted over nothing (or because of the lack of social capital). It’s incensing as ever to see people argue in circles and soundbites on television about something so clearly wrong and waste time debating shit that is so clearly one-sided. What’s worse, at least from where I stand, is that we are still mostly looking at race in America through a binary Black-and-white lens, further alienating and dividing groups of people—e.g., Latino-/Hispanic-Americans and other Diasporic folks—from the national conversation. Divided, there’s little we can conquer.

On my train ride back uptown from sparring this morning, I tried not to think about the bigger picture or most of what I wrote above. I took those moments on the A train to become still, to fall in line with the rhythm of the vibration underneath my feet, and direct all my intention to one person: Yusef’s mother, Diane Hawkins, who continues to suffer the senseless and tragic loss of her son every single day. A mother’s pain is abysmal, it’s deeper than a bottomless ocean, a thousand lashes on one’s soul. It’s totally fucked up.

Light, peace and progress to the spirit of Yusuf Hawkins.

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