Led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the marches have been organized to keep public attention focused on the death of black teenager Yusef Hawkins. Hawkins was murdered in August, 1989 by several Bensonhurst youths, who suspected him of entering their community in search of white females. Earlier that morning, two of his alleged killers have been acquitted on murder charges and released.
"N-ggers, n-ggers, you motherfucking n-ggers," yell some onlookers. Crowds of white people hold up watermelons for the obliging television cameras.
Admittedly, Bensonhurst showcases an extreme example of poisoned race relations in a modern day American community. But the fact that such hatred can be openly witnessed in even one area of our country should gravely trouble us all. Today, more than twenty-five years have passed since our society finally began to dismantle the legal and institutional frameworks that enforced segregation between Americans of different races. Yet it can credibly be argued that there is still a potential for the hatred which exists in Bensonhurst to be exhibited elsewhere, in many other American cities and towns.
Some would go further, and argue that race relations in America today are not only still fragile, but noticably deteriorating. Things are bad and getting worse. Our times demand serious inquiry into all aspects of the history of race relations in America.
(Editor's note, 11/12/10 - This was the introduction to a never-completed paper on notable race riots of the twentieth century. I wanted to look at what sparked riots in Detroit in 1943, Watts in '65, and Newark in '67. I should have stuck closer to home, and focused on one shameful episode in North Carolina history - the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898, the only time in American history that a coup d'etat has successfully overthrown a lawfully elected local government. But I bit off more than I could chew with other papers I was working on at the time, and never started writing this one.
Little did I know that later that summer (1992), the L.A. riots would explode, writing a fresh chapter of our national failure to all get along. This would have been a really timely project.)