NEW YORK — The corner of Verona Place and Fulton Street in Brooklyn is now known as Yusuf Kirreim Hawkins Way.

The intersection on Friday was named after the teenager who lived nearby, on what would have been his 48th birthday had he not been shot dead in 1989 because he was Black.

“I’m so happy and grateful that this happened today, this event happened today for my son,” said Hawkins’s mother, Diane Hawkins. “I just want to thank everyone.”

On August 23, 1989,  Hawkins went to Bensonhurst with some friends to buy a used car. A mob of young white men attacked him with baseball bats because they thought he was dating a white girl in the neighborhood. One attacker shot Hawkins in the chest, killing him.

His brother Amir was just 14 years old. He still thinks about that night.

“So much stuff rolled into one: Shock, hurt, disappointment. I mean, all of the worst stuff you could ever think possibly and feel possible — that’s how it was that night,” Amir said.

Hawkins’s killing sparked outrage and added to the already high racial tensions  in the city. His death galvanized the city’s civil rights movement and gave momentum to the candidacy of David Dinkins, who was elected as the city's first Black mayor less than three months later.

“Sorry to say it, but things are not much better than it was in ‘89,” said Hawkins’s brother, Freddy Hawkins. “But it seems like things are increasing more. You know, there’s more racial hostility, more so than ever.”

What You Need To Know

  • Corner of Verona Place and Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy has been renamed Yusuf Kirriem Hawkins Way

  • Hawkins was only 16 years old when he was shot and killed in a racially-motivated attack in Bensonhurst in 1989

  • Yusuf Kirriem Hawkins Way will stand as a reminder to never forget Hawkins and the racism that led to his murder

Several were arrested for Hawkins’s killing. One teenager was convicted of murder and sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.

The story was retold in an HBO documentary released last year. The film’s producers helped  lead the effort to get the city to rename the street so Hawkins and what happened to him will never be forgotten.

“I really want them to understand that Yusuf was a decent person and, you know, his life, it was taken away from him senselessly, just something that did not have to happen, said consulting film producer Charles Darby.

Hawkins did not live long enough to see the Black Lives Matter movement. Some see his death as a precursor to the movement.

“He inspired a community of activists. He inspired me and every single person here and every single person under the sound of my voice,” Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy said at the street renaming event.

Now, all these years later, in Hawkins’s memory and in the memory of so many others like him, the fight for racial justice and equality continues.


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