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BENSONHURST LEADERS URGE PEACE

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Civic, religious and school officials took steps to soothe racial tensions heightened by the first verdicts in the Bensonhurst racial slaying trial.

Mayor David Dinkins, Police Commissioner Lee Brown and Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez all appeared on television talk shows Sunday to present their peace plans.And Cardinal John O'Connor also said he would ask New York Catholics to take an oath against racism on June 3.

Meanwhile, prosecutors planned Monday to go to court and ask for a trial date for John Vento, who faces a 20-count indictment, including murder charges, in the Aug. 23, 1989, slaying of 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins.

After Vento - a key prosecution witness before he reneged on a deal to testify against Keith Mondello and Joseph Fama - prosecutors plan to try Charles Stressler. Others will be tried later.

Fama was convicted last Thursday of killing Hawkins, who was mobbed by a group of bat-wielding whites when he and three friends wandered into the predominantly white Bensonhurst neighborhood. However, Mondello was acquitted the following day on murder and manslaughter charges, although found guilty of several lesser counts.

The Friday verdict spawned several clashes, mostly directed against television news crews, and a march through Bensonhurst on Saturday that was led by Hawkins' brother. It was marked by racial insults hurled at marchers, but no violence. Police also said three whites sprayed beer onto a car occupied by blacks stopped at a traffic light in Bensonhurst the same day. City leaders responded by Sunday.

For example, Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez, appearing on WNBC-TV's "News Forum," announced the formation of the Blue Ribbon Committee for Racial Harmony, calling on students, teachers and administrators to wear blue ribbons to show their commitment to racial harmony.