Remembering the Howard Beach Attack and Protests in New York 35 Years Later

Carrying a huge Howard Beach banner, Black protesters chanting anti-racist slogans march during a day long demonstration of “outrage” against the Howard Beach racial attack on Jan. 21, 1988. | Source: Bettmann / Getty

Monday marks the 35th year since a group of young white male thugs violently confronted three Black men who became stranded after their car broke down and brutally attacked them with baseball bats and chunks of wood, leaving one of them dead in the Howard Beach neighborhood of New York City’s Queens borough in 1986.

The person who died, 23-year-old Michael Griffith, was chased into highway traffic, where he was fatally struck by a vehicle driven by the son of an NYPD officer.

The teens responsible had been shouting racial slurs at the Black men, one witness told the New York Daily News at the time.

The death of Griffith, a Trinidadian immigrant who had been employed as a construction worker, was compared by then-New York City Mayor Koch to “lynching parties that existed in the Deep South.” He reportedly ran into traffic on the Belt Parkway while unaware of the road and trying to flee from his attackers.

“The white guys were yelling, ‘Come here, n—–,’” John Patterson, who said he saw Griffith moments before he was killed.

The racially motivated attack happened in the early hours of Dec. 20, 1986, after Griffith and three friends — Cedric Sandiford, 36, Timothy Grimes, 20, and Curtis Sylvester, 20 — got in a car in Brooklyn to drive Griffith to get his paycheck in Queens. But when their car broke down in Queens, Griffith, Grimes and Sandiford ended up walking to nearby Howard Beach to find a payphone and call for help. Sylvester stayed behind with the car.

Seemingly as soon as they entered Howard Beach, a mostly white neighborhood, they were confronted by people yelling racial slurs and telling them to leave the neighborhood. Still, the Black men shrugged it off and decided to grab some pizza because they were hungry. It was shortly before 1 a.m. at that point.

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