Three black men are swarmed by a gang of white teenagers screaming racial slurs in Howard Beach on December 20th, 1986; it is located in Queens, New York and the neighborhood is comprised of mostly white, middle-class and Italian-Americans. The men were driving from Brooklyn to Queens earlier in the evening when their vehicle stopped running close to Howard Beach. They had to walk several miles before finally arriving at a pizza parlor located in Howard Beach in which they asked to use a phone in order to call for help. The three ordered pizza after being told there was no phone available to use.
Once they left the parlor, a gang of teens confronted them. Although one of them, Timothy Grimes, escaped without being hurt by outrunning his pursuers, the other two were not so lucky; 23-year-old Michael Griffith was chased into on-coming traffic on the Belt Parkway where he perished after being struck by a vehicle and Cedric Sandiford ended up being beaten severely.
Racial tensions in New York City increased as a result of the attack and appeared in headlines nationally. Adding to the situation was that the survivors refused to assist any further with the district attorney’s office or investigators in Queens because of their distrust and how they felt they were not treated as victims but as the instigators. What followed was a huge group of demonstrators participating in a protest march that was led by civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton through Howard Beach; they were confronted by a smaller group of counter-demonstrators who yelled abuses at them. Black leaders and Sharpton criticized the Queen’s District Attorney’s office that they were mishandling the incident and demanded a special state prosecutor should handle the case.
Charles Hynes was named to handle the case by New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Later on, Al Sharpton was said to have used the case to increase his profile nationally as well as further his own agenda politically. Jury deliberations lasted twelve days and in December of 1987, three teenagers were found guilty of manslaughter in Griffith’s death. One year later, Timothy Grimes is convicted and sentenced to a lengthy time in prison for the shooting of his brother; Cedric Sandiford died in 1991 due to an illness.
Sadly, history has a tendency to repeat itself and in June of 2005, a group of white men attacked three black men in Howard Beach using baseball bats while screaming racial slurs. This occurred almost a decade after the original Howard Beach incident. This time, two of the men fled without suffering injury but the third was beaten. Adding to this controversy was police stating that one of the victims confessed that his purpose for going to Howard Beach was to steal a vehicle. Fortunately, New York decided to create harsher hate crime laws since the years after the 1986 case. The result was 20-year-old Nicholas Minucci being found guilty in June of 2006 of racially motivated robbery and assault. He was sentenced the following month to serve in prison a total of 15 years.