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For the Color of His Skin: The Murder of Yusuf Hawkins and the Trial of Bensonhurst Hardcover – November, 1991

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pharos Books (November 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0886876214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0886876210
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,455,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In August 1989, Yusuf Hawkins, a quiet black teenager, was murdered by a group of white youths in Bensonhurst, a mostly Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. Only three of the eight convicted youths are serving time for their crimes; all were acquitted of murder. In an evenhanded, meticulous reconstruction of the case, DeSantis suggests that the hubris of incoming DA Charles Hynes and his staff in failing to communicate with outgoing DA Elizabeth Holtzman may have fatally flawed the prosecution. He charges that Holtzman's political ambitions and "reckless acquiescence to public sentiment" led her to target the largest number of individual suspects possible instead of focusing on the gunman and those who most immediately shared responsibility. Activist Al Sharpton, who held the entire group equally guilty of murder, is portrayed as "inherently manipulative." No one comes off well in this account, which leaves the lingering impression that justice has not been served. DeSantis covered the case for UPI and the Washington Post. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The murder of Yusuf Hawkins by a group of white youths in Bensonhurst fanned the flames of racial dissent in Brooklyn, New York in 1989. DeSantis, who covered the murder and subsequent trial for the Washington Post and UPI, provides a thorough and unbiased investigative account of all facets of the case. The roles of the media, the political system, law enforcement, community and civic leaders, and personal prejudice are all examined in turn and their impact assessed. Of vital concern in the book is the question of racial justice versus individual justice, and how laws must be enforced. As Alan Dershowitz observes in the introduction, "when racial and political tensions are high no one really seeks justice." Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
- Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., Ind.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

It's a long way from Jackson Heights, NY to the Louisiana bayou country. But that's the path John DeSantis has traveled during a colorful and rewarding career.
John began his career chasing homicides in New York's meanest streets during the bloody 1970s and 1980s for leading wire services, and then covered Brooklyn courts for United Press International. One of the cases he was most involved with stemmed from the 1989 murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst.
He went on to work as a staff reporter at papers in the New York Times regional chain, in Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina, as well as papers in Mississippi and California.
His career has heavily centered on social and criminal justice issues, including exposing the Ku Klux Klan on the Mississippi coast. He provided special coverage of Hurricane Katrina for the NY Times in New Orleans, and for the Houma Courier intensely covered the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its effects on Louisiana fishing communities.
John's signature work has involved the plight of commercial fishermen in Louisiana. He is now the senior staff writer at the Tri-Parish Times in Houma, about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans. He regularly contributes to National Fisherman magazine.
He is at work on a new book about Louisiana's shrimp fishermen and a collection of newspaper columns from the bayou country that earned him the monikers "Breslin of the Bayou" and "Steinbeck of the Swamp" -- an honor he accepts with humility and humor.
His work in the Tri-Parish Times can be accessed at He is available for speaking engagements, radio, television and print interviews.
Areas of expertise include the sociology of American fishing communities, New Orleans and Louisiana culture, hate crimes and race relations in the US.
His personal e-mail address is

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on January 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Yusuf Hawkins (1973-1989) was a 16-year-old African American youth who was killed on August 23, 1989 in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. Hawkins and three friends were attacked by a crowd of 10 to 30 white youths, one of whom shot Hawkins twice in the chest. John DeSantis is a freelance reporter.

DeSantis writes in the Foreword to this 1991 book, "Like the prosecution of those charged with the murder of Yusuf Hawkins, this book raises more questions than it answers... My own education in this regard, as a result of covering the case, is one of the reasons I wrote this book. If nothing else, perhaps now a thorough understanding of both sides of the controversy can be had by anyone who cares to know what was really happening during that most troubled summer."

Here are some quotations from the book:

"Whites in Bensonhurst who express disdain for blacks as a group still have African-American friends. Some are young men who have grown up with them, side by side, and they bristle at suggestions that they are disloyal to their own race and heritage." (Pg. 50)
"(Reverend Al) Sharpton's movement, although counting many separatists among its supporters, is decidedly prosystem. His marches and other public displays of militancy have been geared toward moving the courts and prosecutors' offices that are part of the system already in place." (Pg. 111-112)
"Sharpton and (Mayor Ed) Koch had long been at odds on a number of issues, but there was always a mutual respect between them. The activist regarded Koch as someone who was always straightforward, and even when the two had bitter disagreements there was never any question about the mayor's motives. That was the difference between Koch and Mario Cuomo, so far as Sharpton was concerned." (Pg.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M Quigg VINE VOICE on May 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This explains the reasons for racial tension in New York City. There have been many instances of police and gang brutality. Yusuf Hawkins was the type of kid many of us would want for a son/grandson, or neighbor. When gangs form and think only of revenge, innocent people get killed. Yusuf would have made a great transit worker, however his life was cut short. This is the short history of the 1989 conflict that fanned the flames of hatred in New York City. If people would have been able to contain their rage, this murder might not have happened. The subsequent trials destroyed more people than just the triggerman. The instigator of the rampage, got away.

This is a great book about racial hatred. It shows the unreasonableness of this tendency. Many people paid for this tragedy. Hopefully, people will learn from this mistake, and form a equal society.
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