On December 20, 1986, three black men are attacked by a group of white teenagers in Howard Beach, a predominately white, middle-class, Italian-American neighborhood in Queens, New York. Earlier that night, the men were driving from Brooklyn to Queens, when their car broke down near Howard Beach.
They walked several miles to a pizza parlor, where they asked to use a phone to call for assistance. After being told there was no phone available, they ordered some pizza. When the men left the pizzeria, they were confronted by the gang of teens. One of the men, Michael Griffith, 23, was chased into traffic on the Belt Parkway and died after being hit by a car. A second man, Cedric Sandiford, was severely beaten, while the third man, Timothy Grimes, outran the assailants and escaped without serious injury.
The attack stoked racial tensions in New York and garnered national headlines. The two surviving victims, distrustful of police in Queens who they believed were treating them like perpetrators, refused to cooperate further with investigators and the district attorney’s office. Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton led a large group of demonstrators on a protest march through Howard Beach and was met by a smaller band of counter-demonstrators who shouted abuse. Sharpton and other black leaders believed the Queens District Attorney’s office was mishandling the case and called for the appointment of a special state prosecutor. New York Governor Mario Cuomo named Charles Hynes to the position. Sharpton was later accused of using the case to further his own political agenda and increase his national profile. In December 1987, after 12 days of jury deliberations, three teens were convicted of manslaughter in the death of Griffith. In 1988, Timothy Grimes was arrested for shooting his brother and sentenced to a long prison term. Cedric Sandiford died of illness in 1991.
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