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Parents' Guide to

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn

By Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 12+

Powerful documentary digs into tragic '80s hate crime.

Movie NR 2020 100 minutes
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Fascinating and moving, this documentary digs into both the specifics of a painful case that electrified NYC's racial tensions in the 1980s, and the hole a child's death left in one particular family. Viewed from a distance, Yusuf Hawkins' death can be seen as part of a pattern of racial violence that stretches from the horrors of slavery through the terrible slate of lynchings that began in the Reconstruction era, and still continues to this day, when police violence is a political flashpoint. But to the family and friends who knew him, Hawkins was just a sweet kid who was accompanying a friend to check out a used car advertised in the paper, and got caught up in a neighborhood conflict. The power of Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn, is that it illuminates both of these perspectives.

It certainly isn't easy to watch as Hawkins' relatives and friends describe the guy they knew, particularly when the camera lens is trained on Hawkins' mother, Diane, who frequently sobs as she recounts how much she continues to miss her son, and how easily she can picture his body lying on the street where he was killed. The pain of these loved ones is terribly clear, and terrible to see, as they continue to struggle with their grief over three decades after the murder. These moments are interspersed with a high-level view of racial politics at the time of the murder, including footage of incidents like Tawana Brawley's rape and assault allegations, the Central Park Jogger/Central Park Five case, and the police shooting death of Eleanor Bumpurs. We also hear from the Bensonhurst neighbors who were at the scene of the crime, including one man still serving time for the shooting. It's plain that there never was, and never can be, justice in the Hawkins case -- he's gone, and nothing can bring him back. But this powerful film at least gives Hawkins a place in history and helps us understand how awful his death truly was: for a city, for those who knew him, and for everyone who learns his tragic story.

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