Quite an eerie and wild time for New York City. Light years from what its like now. No M&M Village in Times Square. There was lawlessness and anger in the air; the subways were still covered in graffiti and the steam from the subway grates would still silhouette dudes playing saxophones for change even in the deepest winter freeze. At that time, New York lived up to its stereotype of colourful grime and sometimes crime. The way New York looked in Crocodile Dundee circa 1986 is how it really did look at the time.
Howard Beach was well known for being home to many organised crime figures; notably both mob bosses John Gotti and Joe Massino lived there at one time. The Howard Beach incident in December of 1986 propelled the predominantly Italian and Jewish community into the national spotlight, exposing extreme racial tensions in New York City.
Late on the night of Friday, December 19, 1986, four black men, Michael Griffith, 23; Cedric Sandiford, 36; Curtis Sylvester, 20; and Timothy Grimes, were riding in a car when it broke down in a desolate stretch of Cross Bay Boulevard.
New Park Pizza, 15671 Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach, Queens
With the mob in hot pursuit, the severely beaten Griffith ran onto the nearby Belt Parkway where he jumped through a small hole in a fence adjacent to the highway. As he staggered across the busy six-lane expressway, he was hit by a car driven by the son of a police officer and killed. His body was found on Shore Parkway at 1:03 a.m.
After a lengthy trial and 12 days of jury deliberations, the three main defendants were convicted on December 21, 1987, of manslaughter, a little over a year after the death of Michael Griffith.
Kern, Lester and Ladone were convicted of second-degree manslaughter and Michael Pirone, 18, was acquitted. Ultimately 9 people would be convicted on a variety of charges related to the death of Griffith. Thomas Gucciardo was also later acquitted.
Ladone received a 5 to 15 years sentence, and Kern was sentenced 6 to 18 years in prison.
The jury acquitted Michael Pirone of all charges. The other participants received lighter sentences, and in most cases, community service.
A similar incident to the 1986 event took place on in June of 2005, when three blacks who admittedly went to Howard Beach to steal a car, were attacked with baseball bats; one of them was injured seriously enough to be hospitalised, and two arrests were made in the case.
The convicted assailant, Nicholas "Fat Nick" Minucci, had claimed that the victims had attempted to rob him. Minucci, 20, who uttered a racial epithet during the baseball bat attack, was found guilty of the racially motivated assault and robbery of Glenn Moore. Minucci was later sentenced to 15 years in prison.
On notorious Cross Bay Boulevard, a the group of white teens noticed the group of black and Hispanic teens; according to the Post, "The apparent leader of the black group walked up to his white counterpart and circled him while staring menacingly." The following events were described by Police Commissioner Kelly:
"When the black or Hispanic young man leaves the area, as he walks away, eggs are thrown at him. Again, last night being Halloween. A few minutes later, a group reported to be anywhere from 30 to 40, mostly black and Hispanic, some of them carrying sticks, arrive back and go into a McDonald's where two of the young men apparently from the initial group were assaulted. One was punched in the face, the other one was hit with what appeared to be a stickball bat."
Five people were arrested and charged with gang assault; criminal mischief, and resisting arrest - and they were just 15 and 16 years old. The police are still investigating whether the attack was indeed a hate crime.
I don't about this now; Anytime a black and a white fight its a hate crime? How can you tell? Doesn't all violence stem from some sort of rage or hatred? When do you declare an incident a "hate crime"? How do you know its about race?
It's a touchy subject, I know, but it needs to be addressed. Just because people from different races or backgrounds brawl it out in the street doesn't neccessarily mean its some deep rooted thing. Maybe I'm just playing devils advocate here or being naive, I dunno.
Anytime a white guy hits a black guy I don't think Al Sharpton needs to march and same goes for any time a black guy hits a white guy. Why do we need to impregnate everything with gun powder? Why must we throw bullets into the bonfire? Let's play like it 2007 and the Howard Beach incident was 11 years ago. I'd like to think we've made some progress since then.
The Far Side of the Law: Notorious Queens Landmarks