Howard Beach racial incident

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One African-American man was killed and another was beaten in Howard Beach, Queens, New York, in a racially charged incident in December 1986 that heightened racial tensions in New York City.

The dead man was 23-year-old Michael Griffith, who was born on March 2, 1963 in Trinidad and lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He was killed after being accidentally hit by a car on December 20, 1986 as he was chased onto a highway by a mob of white youths who had beaten him and his friends. Griffith's death was the second in a string of three infamous racially-motivated killings of black men by white mobs in New York City in the 1980s. The other victims were Willie Turks in 1982 and Yusuf Hawkins in 1989.

The incident

Late on the night of Friday, December 19, 1986, four black men: Michael Griffith, 23; Cedric Sandiford, 36; and Curtis Sylvester and Timothy Grimes, both 20; were riding in a car when it broke down in a deserted stretch of Cross Bay Boulevard near Broad Channel. Three of the men walked about three miles north to seek help in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, an insular, mostly-white community. Sylvester remained behind to watch the car. They argued with some white teens who were on their way to a party, then left.

By 12:30 A.M. on the 20th, the men reached the New Park Pizzeria, near the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and 157 Avenue. After a quick meal the men left the pizzeria at 12:40 A.M. and were confronted by a group of about 10 white men who were with the group they had earlier confronted. Racial slurs were exchanged and a fight ensued. Sandiford and Griffith were seriously beaten; Grimes escaped unharmed.[1] While trying to evade his tormentors, Griffith ran in front of a moving car driven by the son of a police officer, and was killed. His body was found on Shore Parkway at 1:03 A.M.[2]


Griffith's death provoked strong outrage and immediate condemnation by then-Mayor of New York Ed Koch. On December 22 three arrests were made of local teenagers; the accused were Jon Lester, Scott Kern and Jason Ladone. The driver of the car that struck Griffith, 24-year-old Dominick Blum, was not charged with any crime and was cleared by a grand jury in May 1987.


To protest the killing of Griffith, 1,200 demonstrators marched through the streets of Howard Beach on December 27, 1986. In the week leading up to this march, Al Sharpton made threats to residents, but on the day of protest, he had people march peacefully. A heavy NYPD presence kept angry locals, who were screaming at the highly emotional crowd of marchers, in check.

Legal process

The Griffith family, as well as Cedric Sandiford, retained the services of Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, two controversial attorneys who would become involved in the Tawana Brawley affair the following year. Maddox raised the ire of the NYPD and Commissioner Benjamin Ward by accusing them of trying to cover up facts in the case and aid the defendants.[3]

After witnesses repeatedly refused to cooperate with Queens D.A. John J. Santucci, Governor of New York Mario Cuomo appointed Charles Hynes special prosecutor to handle the Griffith case on January 13, 1987. The move came after heavy pressure from black leaders on Cuomo to get Santucci, who was seen as too partial to the defendants to prosecute the case effectively, off the case.[4]

New indictments

Twelve defendants were indicted by a grand jury on February 9, 1987, including the original three charged in the case. Their original indictments had been dismissed after the witnesses refused to cooperate in the case.


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 Griffith. Kern, Lester and Ladone were convicted of second-degree manslaughter and Michael Pirone, 18, was acquitted. Ultimately nine people would be convicted on a variety of charges related to Griffith's death.

On January 22, 1988, Jon Lester was sentenced to ten to thirty years imprisonment. On February 5, Scott Kern was sentenced to six to eighteen years imprisonment, and on February 11, 1988, Jason Ladone received a sentence of five to fifteen years imprisonment.


In 1989, Timothy Grimes was sentenced to sixteen years in prison for shooting and badly wounding his brother in a 1988 incident in Virginia.[5]

Cedric Sandiford, one of the principal victims and witnesses in the Griffith case, died of AIDS-related complications in 1991, and in December 1999, the street where Griffith had lived was renamed "Michael Griffith Street." [6]

Jason Ladone, then 29, was released from prison after serving 10 years in April 2000, and later became a city employee. He was arrested again in June 2006, on drug charges.[7] In May 2001, Jon Lester was released and deported to his native England, while Scott Kern was released from prison last of the three main perpetrators, in 2002.

In 2005 the Griffith case was brought back to the public's attention after another racial attack in Howard Beach. A black man, Glenn Moore, was beaten severely with a metal baseball bat by Nicholas Minucci, who was convicted in 2006.[8] The case was revisited yet again by the media, after the death of Michael Sandy, 29, who was beaten and hit by a car after being chased onto the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, New York, in October 2006.


  1. Robers, Sam (18 Dec 2011). "A Racial Attack That, Years Later, Is Still Being Felt". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. McFadden, Robert D. "Black Man Dies After Beating In Queens" New York Times, December 21, 1986, p. A1.
  3. Barron, James. "Ward Renews Attack on Lawyer in Beating Case" New York Times 9 January 1987, p.B5.
  4. Smothers, Ronald "Hynes Is Selected To Be Prosecutor In Queens Attack." New York Times 14 January 1987, p. A1.
  5. Fried, Joseph P. (7 April 1989). "Prison for Howard Beach Victim". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. CBS local[dead link]
  8. CBS local[dead link]

External links