(Originally published on 03.20.2012)
The disturbing shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has brought this country’s long history of racism, racial profiling and bias in the justice system to the forefront of public awareness again. But Trayvon is just the latest in a list of our youth who have been killed simply for being black. From overzealous police officers shooting unarmed black males to gangs and extremists targeting black teens, these are five more racially motivated murders that made headlines.
Yusef Hawkins, 16 years old
On the evening of August 23, 1989, Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old, and three of his friends went to Bensonhurst, a predominately Italian section of Brooklyn, to see about a used car. Without warning, Hawkins and his friends were mobbed by a gang of white youths who had been waiting for a black male rumored to be attending a white girl’s birthday party. Upon seeing Yusef, the mob assumed he was the partygoer and began beating him with baseball bats before one of the ringleaders, Joseph Fama, 18, fatally shot him.
Yusef’s beating and murder sparked racial tensions in New York City and across the country. Even after his shooting, whites in the neighborhood taunted 300 black protesters who marched in solidarity for Yusef. Despite this hate crime, the FBI refused to prosecute Fama for civil rights charges, stating the state had "vigorously pursued" criminal charges. Although Fama was found guilty of 2nd degree murder, tensions in NYC continued to escalate which helped elect the city’s first black mayor.
Ariston Waiters, 19 years old
On December 14, 2011, police in Union City, GA were dispatched about a fight that erupted between two middle school girls. When officers arrived, Ariston Waiters — a black 19-year-old — took off running. Police pursued Waiters, even though he wasn’t involved in the fight. Officer Luther Lewis shot him twice, killing him. Initially Lewis stated that Waiters tried to grab his gun, but eyewitnesses said Waiters never approached Lewis and the autopsy showed he was shot twice in the back.
As the investigation continued, one witness came forward to say the police tore up her statement and there were other issues with the handling of Waiter’s case, including witness intimidation by allowing Lewis to be present during witness interviews. The family believes Waiter was a victim of racial profiling and his case has been mishandled. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case and released their findings to the Fulton County District Attorney in late January. The case is still with the DA’s office and no charges have currently been filed.
Cheryl Green, 14 years old
In December 2006, Cheryl Green, a 14-year-old black girl, rode her scooter down the street to visit friends when she was shot and killed in broad daylight. Green lived in Harbor Heights, a neighborhood in Los Angeles that was divided between Blacks and Latinos. Tensions were so bad that there was a dividing line that both sides understood not to cross
On the day Green was shot, she rode her scooter close to the line, near a grocery store that was considered "off-limits" to blacks in order to talk to her friends. The neighborhood Latino gang, 204th Street Gang, drove by and began shooting, killing Green in the spree. Gang leaders Johnathan Fajardo and Daniel Aguilar were charged and convicted of first-degree murder and committing hate crimes. The two killers were also found guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing killing of a potential witness in the case.
Stephen Lawrence, 18 years old
For proof that racism is everywhere, look no further than Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old living in London who was murdered because he was black. On April 22, 1993, Lawrence was waiting for the bus at a bus stop when he was brutally stabbed to death.
Although five white teens were arrested for the killing, charges were dropped against two of them and the remaining suspects were acquitted. Nearly 18 years after Lawrence’s death, forensic evidence linked two of the teens, Gary Dobson and David Norris, to the hate crime. A jury found them both guilty in January 2012.
Emmett Till, 14 years old
Emmett Till was the first black teen to make headlines for being brutally murdered because of his race in the United States. His killing and the media aftermath ignited the Civil Rights movement. Till was a handsome, smart, 14-year-old from Chicago who was visiting his family in Mississippi the summer of 1955.
On August 24, Till and his cousins went to a small grocery store owned by a white couple, Roy and Carolyn Bryant. There are different accounts about what happened next. Some reports say Till whistled at Carolyn Bryant. Another says he was telling his cousins about his white friends at his integrated school and they dared him to speak to Bryant. Yet another account states Till tried to grab Bryant’s hand. Regardless of what happened, Bryant went home that evening and told her husband about Till.
A few night’s later, Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milan, went at the Till farm, kidnapped Emmett and took him to a barn where they beat and tortured him before shooting him in the head. The men then tied a 70-lb cotton gin fan around Till’s neck with barbed wire and dumped his body in a local river. Till’s body was recovered three days later and returned to his mother in Chicago where she had photos of his mutilated body published so that the world could see what racism had done to her innocent son.
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