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This Day In History: December 20th
A drive from Brooklyn to Queens, New York, turned out to be fatal for three young Black men experiencing car troubles in Howard Beach. The young men were harassed and beaten, and one of the boys was tragically chased to his death on December 20, 1986.
Howard Beach was a predominately white and middle-class neighborhood in Queens, New York. On the day of the incident, Michael Griffith, Cedric Sandiford and Timothy Grimes were driving from Brooklyn through Howard Beach when their vehicle broke down, causing them to seek help from the local community.
The young men left the car and had to walk several miles before entering a pizza parlor. They planned to borrow a phone while in the restaurant, but the owner refused to assist them and they proceeded to order pizza. While inside, they were confronted by a group of white teenagers, which led to a verbal altercation.
Griffith, Sandiford, and Grimes exited the restaurant but were soon met with baseball bats and tree limbs by the white teenagers who previously harassed them in the pizza parlor. Fortunately, Grimes was able to flee the attack, but Griffith and Sandiford were not as fortunate. Sandiford was severely beaten by the mob of white teens. However, in an attempt to escape the attack, Griffith ran into traffic, where he was hit and killed by a car. Despite chasing Griffith to his death, that was not enough for the mob as they continued their attack on Sandiford.
The incident in Howard Beach made national headlines and quickly spread throughout the Black community. Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton led an anti-racism protest in the wake of the attack, which was met with some resistance from counter-protestors. During the investigation, the two surviving victims even stopped cooperating with the police due to poor treatment, and Black activists urged for a new prosecutor to be appointed to the case.
Under special prosecutor Charles Hynes’ direction, the three defendants were prosecuted and convicted for Griffith’s murder. Scott Kern, Jason Ladone and Jon Lester were all convicted of manslaughter the following year, in December of 1987. Michael Griffith was only 23 years old when he died.