Last week in Howard Beach, 19-year-old Nicholas Minucci was accused of fracturing the skull of 22-year-old Glenn Moore by beating him with a baseball bat. Minucci is a white kid from predominately white Howard Beach and Moore is black from predominately black St. Albans.
Witnesses said Minucci shouted racial epithets at Moore while assaulting him, bringing to mind the infamous “Howard Beach Incident” of 1986, when a group of white Howard Beach teenagers attacked three black men on Cross Bay Boulevard whose car had allegedly broken down. The assault ignited racial tensions in the city, some that have never been resolved.
So it didn’t take much for local politicians and the media to compare last week’s beating with the one in 1986. But the circumstances are very different. Both Minucci and Moore have police records and were clearly up to no good. Minucci was on probation for a 2002 stabbing and Moore had a record of auto theft. There were unmistakable racist overtones to the crime, but it was not a case of a white neighborhood sending a message to blacks that they are not welcome, as it was in 1986. This is a case of two sets of young people without proper jobs and education doing illegal and violent things under the cover of night.
Minucci wasn’t simply a regular young Howard Beach kid with racist tendencies. He was a thug, unemployed, driving an expensive car late at night looking for trouble. And Moore and his friends weren’t blameless. By one of their own accounts, they were out looking for a Chrysler 300, which they were reportedly paid $6,000 in advance to steal.
Minucci and his friends couldn’t have known this, and even if they did, it’s no justification for beating a man within inches of his life with a baseball bat. But the backgrounds of the people involved do matter. And to say that it doesn’t does a disservice to all New Yorkers. There was no legitimate reason for any of them to be on the streets at 3 a.m. The two young men reportedly exchanged “hard stares,” and who knows what else was said to escalate the incident.
What is most troubling are the details. Why was Minucci, unemployed and living with his mother, driving a $60,000 car at 3 a.m. wearing a $6,000 diamond-encrusted Rolex watch and a $4,000 gold chain? What was Moore, reportedly on Army disability and waiting for a settlement from a childhoof car accident to come through, doing with a new pair of Prada dress shoes and new Air Jordan sneakers for his 6-month-old daughter? For young men, both without jobs and both living with their mothers, these are rather extravagant and unnecessary possessions.
Even if 19-year-old Minucci, at a hefty 240 pounds, had recently won the lottery and suffered from insomnia at 3 a.m., he had no legitimate need of an aluminum baseball bat to protect himself from an unarmed 120 pounder. It may be an old-fashioned idea, but there’s a vast difference in violent intent between young men coming to blows with fists and a man slamming another’s skull with a baseball bat.
There are racist people in Howard Beach, just like there are racist people in all of America. But for politicians and city officials to migrate en masse to Howard Beach to indict the entire neighborhood is wrong, unhelpful and inflammatory. If anything, lawmakers should call for a measure of calm. And they should hold the perpetrators accountable.
In Howard Beach last week, four young men who were up to no good found one another. Minucci allegedly perpetrated a violent attack on Moore while shouting racial slurs and deserves to be charged to the fullest extent of the law, including a charge of a hate crime.
This could have happened anywhere and would be no less disturbing. And violence like this, often without the overt racial implications, happens with alarming regularity all over our city. In early June, 32-year-old Dwan Prince was beaten up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, most likely for being gay and just this last weekend a 22-year-old Asian woman was mugged and subjected to racial slurs by her attackers in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
These attacks also deserve our full attention and outrage, even if they didn’t happen in Howard Beach.