A powerful revisiting of the 1989 Yusuf Hawkins killing in Bensonhurst. I myself was a 21 year old in Manhattan then, too busy partying in pre-Giuliani NYC than to follow current events much and it was far too easy to accept the narrative put forth by the local newspapers and broadcast news: that some kids had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and it was an accident, of sorts. It was also easy to accept the popular narrative that almost immediately casts doubts upon young people of color from the get-go. In the case of Yusuf Hawkins, that was cleared up in a matter of days (they were innocent) but with the Central Park Jogger it took decades to clear their names.
The reality with the Hawkins killing is that four young black men went to check out a car for sale in a neighborhood they were unfamiliar with and almost immediately after getting off the subway, they were circled by a group of 30 or so predominantly white men, primed for a fight and armed with bats. Yusuf Hawkins was shot dead and, in the days, and months that followed it became a cause célèbre, the foundation of which was a series of incredibly tense and racially charged protest marches in Bensonhurst. The marches brought out the worst in the mostly Italian-American locals who ranted and raved on camera. No one would damage the long-fought-for image of Italian-Americans more than the cast of Jersey Shore almost 20 years later.
To the reviewer here griping about the portrayal of Italian-Americans: there's not much to defend when you watch this film and see the things they did and hear the things they said to the protest marchers. As far as the number of African-American living in Bensonhurst in about 1990, the reviewer cites "2,000." I'm not sure what the reviewer's point was. Regardless, I think it was actually closer to 7,000...but that was within a population of 150,000. So, whether it was 2,000 or 7,000, only about 1% to 5% of the population of Bensonhurst was African-American. Minuscule compared to the white majority. If you want to get a pretty good idea of Bensonhurst at the time, just watch Spike Lee's 1991 Jungle Fever, of which he dedicated to Yusuf Hawkins.
What enflamed the media and therefore the public during the marches was the polarizing presence of Reverend Al Sharpton. He was at a low-point in his own public image having just come off the revealed-to-be-a-hoax Tawana Brawley incident, and many viewed him as a charlatan.
We get interviews with a lot of players, including Sharpton who certainly comes across as an eloquent and wise elder statesman now, not nearly as accredited as he should be.
Also heard from is the almost forgotten one-term Mayor of NYC, David Dinkins. He was in many ways elected because of the color of his skin but he turned out to be the whitest NYC Mayor since John Lindsay.
My favorite interview was with a NYPD Detective who explained his interrogation techniques with one of the suspects. Let's just say it wouldn't fly today but it certainly worked for him then.
A few intriguing threads are left on the table. For one, Hawkins's father Moses Stewart, appears to flourish as the press conferences and marches continue. He goes from a diamond in the rough to a very polished guy. I would have liked some positing on that and why he retreated from public life and his family. I also would have liked some more interviews with the Bensonhurst denizens. But sometimes a hint is all that you need, and the filmmakers certainly exercised a lot of restraint. Perhaps too much restraint.
Especially when viewed through the lens of 2020, the Yusuf Hawkins story is highly disturbing. At a very base level it demonstrates what the death of a son/brother/cousin/nephew could do to a family and on a larger level, it illustrates what one of the reviewers here erroneously called "pandemic," actually meaning "endemic," racism.