White Teen Charged with Hate Crime Beating in NYC

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A white teenager has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly beating a black man with a baseball bat in the Howard Beach section of Queens in New York City. That same neighborhood was the scene of a high-profile racial killing two decades ago. Beth Fertig of member station WNYC reports.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Again, our top story: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has announced her retirement from the US Supreme Court. We're following this story on the program, and we'll have more in just a few minutes.

But first this. A black man is in critical condition in a New York hospital after he was allegedly beaten with a baseball bat by a white teen-ager. The incident occurred in the Howard Beach section of Queens. That's the same neighborhood where a black man was killed almost 20 years ago after being chased into traffic by a group of whites. Beth Fertig of member station WNYC has more.

BETH FERTIG reporting:

The assault allegedly took place early Wednesday morning when three black men were chased by three whites. Police say 19-year-old Nicholas Minucci confessed to beating 22-year-old Glen Moore. They say Minucci also acknowledged that one of his friends uttered a racial epithet after the beating. Minucci's lawyer now claims Moore threatened to rob his client with a screwdriver. Yesterday, Minucci was charged with assault. Prosecutors are treating it as a hate crime. Meanwhile, community leaders flocked to Moore's hospital bed--among them, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend AL SHARPTON: Nineteen years ago we came to Howard Beach, and the horrors of that time came to mind.

FERTIG: In that incident, a young black man named Michael Griffith was killed after his car broke down and he went into a pizza parlor with his friends. A group of whites chased the men with baseball bats while shouting racial slurs. Griffith was killed when he fled into oncoming traffic. In a press conference a few days later, former Mayor Ed Koch compared it to a lynching.

Former Mayor ED KOCH (New York City): It's intolerable and unacceptable, and this city will rise up in its wrath against those who perpetrated that monstrosity and those who support it.

FERTIG: Three teen-agers were found guilty of manslaughter in the 1986 crime. With echoes of that previous case, the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has promised a thorough investigation of Moore's beating.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York City): I think if you look today, this city has learned a lesson, pulled together and is not going to let anybody tear us apart.

FERTIG: Howard Beach was one of the most racially divisive incidents in the city. Reverend Sharpton led rallies through the neighborhood, and black protesters clashed with white residents who resented the negative attention.

(Soundbite of traffic)

FERTIG: Today Howard Beach is still a mostly white neighborhood of single-family homes and tiny green lawns. While other minorities are growing, blacks make up less than 1 percent of the population. Fifteen-year-old Heather Widom says she knows what people in other neighborhoods think.

HEATHER WIDOM: We're racist, you know. Automatically they're like, `Oh, I don't like you. You live in Howard Beach.'

FERTIG: Many residents are reluctant to see the two incidents as anything other than a terrible coincidence of geography. On a local bus, everyone was talking about the recent beating.

Unidentified Woman #1: It's all over the newspaper and on the news.

FERTIG: Cecilia Quaranta and her teen-age daughter disagree about whether the community is hostile to blacks.

Ms. CECILIA QUARANTA: It's changing.

Unidentified Teen: No, they just don't want black people in the area 'cause it's mostly white.

FERTIG: Some residents wonder if this week's attack was driven by something else. Howard Beach has had a rash of robberies. Police say Moore's companions admitted they went to Howard Beach looking to steal a car. They didn't, but 38-year-old Matt Happaney says he could see how Minucci and his friends might have been suspicious.

Mr. MATT HAPPANEY: It ain't like the last time. The la--it's a total different thing. These guys were up to no good and they're coming into the neighborhood trying to, you know, steal a car. They even admitted that. You gotta protect your property.

FERTIG: But there's no evidence the perpetrators had any information about what the young black men were doing in the neighborhood. And Mayor Bloomberg has warned that even if they did, there is no excuse for any racially motivated assault or vigilante justice. For NPR News, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.

BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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