UPDATED: 9:00 a.m., Dec. 20, 2021
Monday marks the 35th year since a group of young white male thugs violently confronted three Black men who became stranded after their car broke down and brutally attacked them with baseball bats and chunks of wood, leaving one of them dead in the Howard Beach neighborhood of New York City’s Queens borough in 1986.
The person who died, 23-year-old Michael Griffith, was chased into highway traffic, where he was fatally struck by a vehicle driven by the son of an NYPD officer.
The teens responsible had been shouting racial slurs at the Black men, one witness told the New York Daily News at the time.
The death of Griffith, a Trinidadian immigrant who had been employed as a construction worker, was compared by then-New York City Mayor Koch to “lynching parties that existed in the Deep South.” He reportedly ran into traffic on the Belt Parkway while unaware of the road and trying to flee from his attackers.
“The white guys were yelling, ‘Come here, n—–,’” John Patterson, who said he Griffith moments before he was killed.
The racially motivated attack happened in the early hours of Dec. 20, 1986, after Griffith and three friends — Cedric Sandiford, 36, Timothy Grimes, 20, and Curtis Sylvester, 20 — got in a car in Brooklyn to drive Griffith to get his paycheck in Queens. But when their car broke down in Queens, Griffith, Grimes and Sandiford ended up walking to nearby Howard Beach to find a payphone and call for help. Sylvester stayed behind with the car.
Seemingly as soon as they entered Howard Beach, a mostly white neighborhood, they were confronted by people yelling racial slurs and telling them to leave the neighborhood. Still, the Black men shrugged it off and decided to grab some pizza because they were hungry. It was shortly before 1 a.m. at that point.
That’s when a dozen white boys aged 16 to 19 armed with baseball bats, tire irons and tree limbs began waiting for the Black men outside of the pizzeria.
“What are you doing in this neighborhood, n——s?” they asked.
Once the men left, they were promptly pounced on and savagely beaten simply because of the color of their skin and their location.
“My God, I have a son like you, 17 years old,” Sandiford reportedly said to the attackers. “Please don’t kill me.”
Grimes was able to escape unharmed.
Police soon responded to find Sandiford — the boyfriend of Griffith’s mother — beaten and bloodied and racially profiled him as a suspect in Griffith’s death. Then-NYPD Commissioner Benjamin Ward, the first Black man to hold that position, reportedly “scolded the Queens commanding officer for his officers’ insensitivity toward Sandiford.”
Four of the teens — Jon Lester, Jason Ladone, Scott Kern and Michael Pirone — were charged with manslaughter, second-degree murder and first-degree assault while the rest of the racist attackers faced lesser charges. Lester, Ladone and Kern were all found guilty while Pirone was acquitted.
Lester, an immigrant from the UK who was the attack’s ringleader, testified in court that he saw the Black men and went back to a party he had been attending to alert people there that, “There’s niggers on the boulevard,” the New York Times reported. He implored anyone who would listen: “Let’s go kill them.”
The Times reported: “The attack inflamed simmering tensions between blacks and whites in New York City; sparked angry marches by protesters, who were met by local residents outraged in turn at being tarred as bigots; and, with the case drawing worldwide attention, transformed predominantly white Howard Beach into a metonym for racial hatred.”
Thirty-five years after the Howard Beach attack, similar racially motivated attacks are still happening across the country.
This is America.
Violent White Folks Who Were Taken Into Custody With Loving Care By Police
1. Miami airport violence
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Last night at Miami Int’l Airport. Another FL anti-masker covidiot. (Strong language). pic.twitter.com/kO18bBFPTb— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) August 28, 2021
2. Floyd Ray Roseberry
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NEW: “The revolution is on. It’s here… I’m ready to die for the cause.”— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 19, 2021
Here’s video from the man who said he’s got a bomb outside the Capitol.
Follow @huffpost and @sara_bee for more as the situation develops. pic.twitter.com/aRx1hES7Vl
3. Jeffrey Nicholas
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Jeffrey Nicholas, a white man shot and killed two police officers and injured a city worker in Texas before he was able to be safely apprehended without law enforcement resorting to using lethal force.https://t.co/sLhFwxZHgg pic.twitter.com/yWd0XUg7Og— NewsOne (@newsone) May 13, 2021
4. Robert Aaron Long, suspect in Asian massage parlor killing spree in GASource:Crisp County Sheriff's Office 4 of 32
5. Duke Webb, bowling alley gunman in Rockford, IllinoisSource:Winnebago County Sheriff's Office 5 of 32
6. Car Drives Into Group Of Protesters In New YorkSource:Getty 6 of 32
7. Brad Parscale, demoted former Trump campaign managerSource:Getty 7 of 32
8. Brett HankisonSource:Shelby County Sheriff's Department 8 of 32
9. Thomas Kinworthy accused of killing Black cop, shooting another9 of 32
10. Dalton Potter allegedly shot a cop and another man
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BLUE ALERT issued for Dalton Potter, age 29. Potter is suspected of shooting a Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputy overnight. Last known to be on foot on Interstate 75 at the Whitfield/Gordon County line. Potter is considered armed and dangerous. Call 911. #BlueAlert pic.twitter.com/Vdyl8ReGaW— GA Bureau of Investigation (@GBI_GA) September 7, 2020
11. White suspect physically attacking officer
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Interesting.— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) August 30, 2020
Thinking about Jacob Blake right now. Sure seems like white people get the benefit of the doubt when engaged with the police... pic.twitter.com/kLh9iCJepp
12. Kyle Rittenhouse, Kenosha Jacob Blake shooterSource:Twitter 12 of 32
13. White supremacist who beat a woman on video
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Nicholas Arnold Schock, 36, of Wauchula was arrested and charged with battery and disturbing the peace and bail was set at $620. He remains at the Sarasota County Jail. pic.twitter.com/ggDBjAxCN1— Carlos R. Munoz 📰 (@ReadCarlos) August 2, 2020
14. West Hollywood shooter14 of 32
15. Gregory and Travis McMichaelsSource:Glynn County Sheriff's Office 15 of 32
16. Anthony J. Trifiletti, shot an unarmed Black manSource:Saint Paul Police Department 16 of 32
17. Matthew Bernard, Killed Three People17 of 32
18.18 of 32
19. Mark Boisey19 of 32
20. Lorne BrownSource:NBC Miami 20 of 32
21. Patrick Crusius, El Paso Mall Mass Shooting Suspect
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Patrick Crusius allegedly wrote a racist manifesto before killing at least 18 people in Saturday's shooting at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso. The suspect, a white male, was safely taken into custody.— NewsOne (@newsone) August 3, 2019
This is America. #Walmartshooting #ElPasoShootinghttps://t.co/cjYzJZsCXn
22. Aaron DeanSource:Tarrant County Jail 22 of 32
23. Amber Guyger23 of 32
24. James Holmes
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Today on #CrimeStories: Prosecutors have released video of #Aurora shooter #JamesHolmes’ interviews w/ a psychiatrist. Tune in now on @SiriusXM ch. 111 for insight on the evaluation of his sanity in the #Colorado theater massacre. #NancyGrace #CrimeAlert #CrimeOnline #MassKiller pic.twitter.com/DKRD2s0ay8— Crime Online (@crimeonlinenews) February 26, 2019
25. Michael Mattioli25 of 32
26. Dylann RoofSource:Getty 26 of 32
27. Matthew Sloan Punched And Spit On Police...
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Again, if Matthew Sloan was a Black man this would be a much different story. https://t.co/K4cwb6SQ38— NewsOne (@newsone) July 12, 2019
28. Assaulted Police And Even Chased Them...
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This man never complied— Gambling Refund 💵™ (@OffshoreRefund) May 14, 2019
This man actually hit police multiple times
This man chased police and made them fear for safety
This man was not killed!
Pamela Turner was murdered and pregnant, she was never given the same opportunity. WHY? @KingJamespic.twitter.com/DfzdICbOy8
29. Shot At Police At Trump Tower...29 of 32
30. Shot At Police At Walmart -- And Was Let Go...30 of 32
31. Man Holds Black Man At Gunpoint And He Is Calmly Arrested...
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Downtown CHARLOTTESVILLE right now. F*ing white trash has a black man submitted first with a knife around his neck, then makes him kneel still threatening to stab him.— ℕ𝕠𝕥 𝕓𝕚𝕡𝕠𝕝𝕒𝕣 𝕥𝕠𝕕𝕒𝕪 (@tomorrowtambien) December 28, 2018
Please, Twitter do your thing in the name of justice #resist @washingtonpost @MSNBC pic.twitter.com/klg7g5ac22
32. Grady Wayne Wilkes32 of 32
35 Years Later, Recalling The Howard Beach Attack And The Racist Teens Who Targeted Black Men was originally published on newsone.com