NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Twenty-five years ago, Howard Beach became a racial flashpoint.
On Dec. 19, 1986, Michael Griffith, 23, and three other black men ended up in the predominantly white neighborhood after their car broke down on Cross Bay Boulevard.
Three of the men were nearly bumped by a car in which several white teenagers were riding and words were exchanged between the two groups.
Other white teenagers soon joined in and chased Griffith, Timothy Grimes, who was 18, and Cedric Sandiford, who was 36.
Griffith was struck and killed by a car after being chased onto the Belt Parkway. Six blocks of Pacific Street are now named for him.
Sandiford, who was beaten with a bat during the incident, died in 1991 of AIDS. Grimes, who escaped unharmed, is currently behind bars for shooting his brother in Virginia.
Jon Lester, Scott Kern and Jason Ladone were convicted of manslaughter in the case. They are all out of prison now and are family men in their 40’s.
Though some argued the case was turf-motivated, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who was the special prosecutor during the Howard Beach racial trial, said the evidence clearly showed it was a “racially-motivated attack.”
Griffith’s mother, Jean, now works as a community liaison for Hynes.
“Right from the beginning, when I first met her, she was someone who had no hate or animosity anywhere in herself,” Hynes told 1010 WINS. “When the case resulted in the conviction of three of the four defendants she said she felt sorry for the parents of these defendants because of the fact that they were going to prison. Then she added, ‘at least they can see their children in prison, I have nothing to see but the cemetery and the dirt.'”
Representative Gregory Meeks represents Old Howard Beach and said it is a different place today than it was 25 years ago.
Hynes said many changes have progressively taken place over the years, specifically as a result of the Griffith case.
“Today, 45 percent of the NYPD is made up of people of color,” Hynes said. “As a matter of fact, the last academy class for police recruits is made up of a majority of minorities. So, there’s been a great many changes.”
Howard Beach still remains predominantly white neighborhood. The latest numbers show the proportion of non-Hispanic white residents at 74 percent. The black population remains below 2 percent.
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