NEW YORK — Outside the New Park Pizzeria with its blinking red neon sign in the shape of a pizza pie, a police car stood guard Wednesday. Other squad cars patrolled the streets of the Howard Beach neighborhood, past well-kept homes with Christmas decorations in the windows and youngsters playing basketball in driveways or touch football on the sidewalk.
As the new year begins, the aftershocks in the normally isolated Queens neighborhood and in other parts of New York City over the beating of three black men with baseball bats and a broken tree limb outside the pizza parlor a dozen days ago are not subsiding.
One of the victims, Michael Griffith, 23, was killed when he was struck by a car as he was fleeing his white attackers. Three teen-agers were arrested, but charges of murder and assault were dropped because of the refusal of one of the black victims to testify against them.
Fearful of increased racial tensions and the possibility of trouble at the traditional New Years Eve celebration in Times Square, Mayor Edward I. Koch met with black politicians and community leaders at City Hall Wednesday and ordered extra police officers assigned to keep on eye on the revelers.
Hours earlier, the black lawyer for the principal witness in the case--the victim who has refused to testify before a grand jury--sat in a Brooklyn church, angrily denouncing the mayor, the police, the prosecutors and some black officials critical of his refusal to let his client testify.
"The mayor . . . and some of our Negro leadership have all formed a new lynch mob, and they are hounding and chasing the messenger of truth," charged Alton Maddox Jr., the lawyer for victim Cedric Sandiford. He is also representing the family of Griffith.
"The Queens district attorney's office is making the case for the defense," Maddox said. "There is no prosecution in the Michael Griffith case. There is a complete defense team."
Wants Special Prosecutor
Maddox demanded that a special prosecutor replace the Queens district attorney and federal prosecutors who are investigating the incident as a violation of U.S. civil rights statutes. So far, federal and state authorities have expressed confidence in John J. Santucci, the district attorney, and the New York Police Department, and pressure continued Wednesday on Maddox to allow Sandiford to cooperate with investigators.
Without Sandiford's testimony, prosecutors say, it will be impossible to bring major charges against the three teen-agers accused of the beatings.
Maddox has given different reasons for refusing to let his client testify. He has demanded that the motorist who struck Griffith be arrested and charged in the incident. Police say, however740324456motorist. On Wednesday, Maddox said that Sandiford is too ill to testify.
Waves of Outrage
The attack, which shocked many New Yorkers, has sent waves of outrage across the nation. It has focused intense attention on Howard Beach, an overwhelmingly white community of 18,000 residents on the shores of Jamaica Bay near Kennedy International Airport.
At the start of the new year, the mood in Howard Beach is defensive and reflective, with differing opinions of the tragedy's meaning.
"This is not a question of race. This is a question of territory and turf," said Joel Miele, a longtime resident and community board president as he sat in his living room. "The problem is three fellows who were obviously not part of the community were challenged by drunken kids. When the talking got back and forth, it escalated out of control. Everyone I talked to is appalled by the incident. They say we don't have anything to be embarrassed for and we don't have to ask forgiveness.
"We believe the law should take its course and, if these kids are responsible--and it looks as if they are--they should be punished."
Later, Miele, an engineer, returned to the subject of the beatings of the black men, whose car had broken down.
Playing 'Macho Man'
"Three kids, liquored up, had a girl. They wanted to play macho man. The kids are idiots, simple idiots . . . . It is not a racial problem. It really is not. If those three liquored-up kids in that car went by and saw three white kids from John Adams High School, the same incident would have happened. They (the kids) are very territorial."
According to police, the incident began after the white teen-agers saw the blacks in the New Park Pizzeria and, returning with friends, attacked them.
"It hurts to see the media portraying this as a Howard Beach incident," said Augustus Agate, a lawyer and neighborhood resident for 24 years. "It could have happened anywhere in the city. It just happened here. The responsible people from Howard Beach deplore the act. You cannot put a racist tag on us because of the acts of a couple of teen-agers who got drunk at a party."