Celebrated as the most diverse place in the world, the borough of Queens has a dark history under its melting pot of nationalities.
On July 4th, 1989, a group of eight young Black family members decided to celebrate the holiday with fireworks on the Public School 195 playground on 253rd Street and 149th Avenue, in Rosedale, Queens. A 22-year-old white man by the name of Michael Sims, a former Rosedale resident, falsely posed as a police officer and demanded the group stop setting off firecrackers. Sims then proceeded to tell the group of Black youth that he can have them killed “at the snap of his fingers.” When asked for identification, Sims left and returned with a group of estimated 35 white men, wielding bats and sticks. The white supremacist mob taunted the group and said “this is our park!.” and chased the group of Black youth out of the playground.
The group of Black youth was able to retreat to a house on 254th Street where one of them, Fabrice Thembaud, was actually visiting. Unable to get inside, the white supremacist mob surrounded the house, shouted racial epithets, and pounded on the door before they ran off.
Five men apart of the white supremacist mob were arrested and indicted for the harassment and assault on the eight members of the Black family. Prior to being charged with first-degree assault and facing 15 years for a felony charge, the first arrest in the mob attack, was charged with just second-degree aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor with a punishment of only one year in jail. This charge was given to 17-year-old James La Greca, the son of the Assistant District Attorney of Queens, Linda La Greca. Theodore Wellington and Stephen G. James, lawyers for the Black family, said the charges were way too lenient and at the very least, La Greca should be charged with assault and attempted murder for using a stick on one of the victims.
Alongside the upgraded charges for the five men arrested, was police Captain Robert Cividanes’ public acknowledgment that it had been about 35 minutes between the time the police received the first 911 call about the mob attack on the Black family, and the time that the first police car was assigned to respond to the incident. Cividanes’ excuse was that the 105th Precinct “was in a backlog condition.” The Black family stated that “a police car didn’t show up for an hour or two.”
The lawyer for James La Greca proclaimed he was being treated unfairly due to being the son of the Assistant District Attorney after the charges were sharply upgraded but the prosecutor James Hubert, told Justice Charles J. Thomas that La Greca “clearly acted in concert,” with the other defendants. James Hubert also said that La Greca made incriminating statements in his testimony and to the police.
One of the five defendants, Robert Gadero, a 24-year-old from The Bronx, was found to not be a participant in the July 4th white supremacist mob attack, lessening the defendants to four in total. The four defendants, James La Greca, Gary Santanastasio, Michael Sims, and Richard De Curtis, had their bails set at prices ranging from $1,500 to $5,000, and not-guilty pleas entered by their defense lawyers.
The sentiment from the white residents of Rosedale remained on the side of support for the participants in the white supremacist mob attack:
”They’re trying to make it a Howard Beach and it has nothing to do with Howard Beach,” said Kenneth Gallub, a 22-year-old who had lived in Rosedale and had returned for a visit. He was referring to a 1986 racial attack in another Queens neighborhood in which a black man was struck and killed by a passing car as he sought to escape from a group of whites chasing him.
”It wasn’t racial,” Fran Jannello, a 20-year-old white resident of the area, insisted heatedly as she and a group of friends stood outside the yard of Public School 195 at 149th Avenue and 253d Street, the site of the incident.
Denise Zumpano, also 20, said James La Greca, a 17-year-old who lives across the street from the schoolyard and has been charged with aggravated harassment in the case, ”had nothing to do with it,” Mr. La Greca was the only person arrested as of last night.
– The New York Times
The white residents deflected and despised being seen as another Howard Beach. On the flipside, Black residents of Rosedale told a different narrative that contradicts and tells the truth about the reality of race-relations in Rosedale:
“Black residents of the area interviewed as they stopped by the schoolyard said they had not witnessed the incident, but spoke of the sometimes uneasy proximity in which whites and blacks lived in Rosedale, a working-class and middle-class community of predominantly private homes, which lies along the Nassau County border.
”When a black moves in, you can feel the tension,” said Harold Weekes, a 36-year old employee of a car-rental agency who also lives down the block from the schoolyard. ”People stand around and point.”
– The New York Times
Despite Queens and New York City as a whole being seen as a melting pot multiracial paradise, the history of race relations needs to be examined and not swept under the rug. As white people fled neighborhoods due to the rise of Black and other ethnicities moved in, they continued to engage in violent acts such as the mob attack in Rosedale, Queens to strike fear in the hearts of non-whites who dared to move in “their neighborhoods.”