Tag Archives: Michael Griffith

New Park Pizza in Howard Beach vandalized


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo via mrsquinn1118/Instagram

The iconic Howard Beach pizzeria, New Park Pizza, was reportedly vandalized early Friday morning.

An angry customer tagged “worst service ever” on the pizza spot’s front windows for all of Cross Bay Boulevard to see, according to an Instagram picture posted Friday morning.

An employee said the graffiti was washed away by the time he came into work.

New Park Pizza was the site of a 1986 hate crime in which a black man, Michael Griffith, was killed.

 

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Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes remembers Howard Beach trial


| jlent@homereporternews.com

In 1987, Charles Hynes was vacationing upstate when he received word he would be the chief prosecutor in the trial of a racially motivated slaying of a 23-year-old African-American man in the Howard Beach section of Queens.

“I was watching a TV news special in the library of this hotel,” Hynes recalled. “And I saw the crowd at Howard Beach chanting, ‘Haven’t you heard? Howard Beach isn’t Johannesberg.’ At that moment there was an announcement. I was wanted on the phone.”

When he picked up the receiver, Hynes, then a special state prosecutor for then-Governor Mario Cuomo, was assigned to what would become his most famous case — the December 20, 1986 slaying of Michael Griffith, and the assault and harassment of two other men in Howard Beach by a group of white males. The incident incited racial tensions across the city — with demonstrations like the one Hynes witnessed, led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, becoming a common sight.

Twenty-five years later, Hynes who is now the district attorney for Kings County, recalls how difficult the laws of the time made it for him to get a felony conviction.

“There wasn’t a question in my mind [that it was a racially motivated attack],” he said. “But we didn’t charge it as a hate crime because a hate crime at the time was a misdemeanor.”

Unable to argue the case as the racially-motivated felony he claims it would be today, Hynes had to prove the defendant’s guilt as if it were a typical murder charge. In order to do so, he relied on the testimony of one of the attackers.

“The evidence I had was [from] one of the people who was involved in the case,” Hynes said. “We had him plead to a lesser charge in order to get his cooperation. Without his testimony, there would have been no conviction.”

After an 11-day deliberation period, which he reports was the “the longest ever at the time for a Queens criminal trial jury,” the State Supreme Court in Queens convicted Jon Lester, Jason Ladone, Scott Kern and Michael Pirone with manslaughter, second degree murder and first degree assault.

Hynes, who went on to write a book about the case, credits it as a major reason for acquiring his current position.

“There’s no question the celebrity that came out of it was as responsible as anything in getting me elected district attorney in 1989,” he said. “I was in people’s living rooms for three months.”

Howard Beach has come ‘a long way’ since racial incident


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Twenty-five years after escalating racial tensions in Howard Beach thrust the neighborhood into infamy, residents and local leaders alike say the “tight community” has changed for the better.

On December 20, 1986, Howard Beach emerged into the spotlight when a gang of white teens — waving bats and bellowing racial slurs — brutally beat three black men who chanced upon the neighborhood after their car broke down. According to reports, one of the three — 23-year-old Michael Griffith — was chased onto oncoming traffic on Shore Parkway, where he was hit by a car and killed after attempting to escape the mob.

Four of the assailants were charged with murder, manslaughter and assault, and the incident was deemed one of the most explosive racial crimes in the city in recent years by multiple reports — eventually making Howard Beach synonymous with hate, residents said.

“For people who are not from the area, it’ll trigger something when they hear the words ‘Howard Beach,’” said Margaret, a resident who did not want to give her last name. “That was one incident. It was a very unfortunate incident, but it shouldn’t define an entire neighborhood.”

Elected officials and community leaders shared the same sentiment, saying the infamous incident has stained the neighborhood’s name.

“There are people in every community of which race relations are what it shouldn’t be,” said Betty Braton, chairperson of Community Board 10. “We’re tarnished for something the community did not do or condone.”

Even still, Senator Joseph Addabbo said he’s “very happy” with where the community stands 25 years later.

“It’s always an effort to get Howard Beach out of that limelight,” he said. “We have come so far since then. It took a while to get to this point and I’m very happy where we are now. Howard Beach is a great community, made up of great, hardworking people. I think they do well promoting the good will of Howard Beach, where there are so many more positive things going on.”

According to the 2010 census, the vast majority of Howard Beach residents — close to 77 percent — are white, only about 2 percent are black and close to 17 percent are Hispanic.

“We’re a lot more diverse than in the past,” said Christina Gold, president of the Lindenwood Alliance. “We’ve become bonded. We’re one family. What happened 25 years ago… I don’t think we have that issue now, and we’re going to continue to be that way.”

Still, some residents said 25 years isn’t enough time for people to outgrow such “deep-rooted” feelings of hate.

“To say that it’s vanished — it’d be wonderful to say that, but I don’t think so,” said Meybol Geramita. “Unfortunately, people don’t change that quickly.”

This March, a noose — long a symbol of hatred and intolerance — was discovered hanging on a tree near Lindenwood’s P.S. 232, much to the disgust and dismay of the neighborhood. However, elected officials deemed it an “isolated incident,” pointing to the diversity of the neighborhood as proof.

“Unfortunately, no area of our great city is immune to hate crimes. We’re seeing it in Queens and also in Brooklyn, but nowhere should it be tolerated,” Addabbo said. “I think there are still remnants of [racism], but we have come a long way, and as the years go on, it’ll keep diminishing.”