As I understand it, in the summer of 2006, seven young Black lesbians from New Jersey, Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Chenese Loyal, Lania Daniels, and Khamysha Coates, were hanging out in New York City’s West Village when Dwayne Buckle, an aggressively heterosexual Black man selling DVDs on the street, sexually propositioned Patreese. Refusing to take no for an answer, he followed them down the street, insulting and threatening them by yelling things like: “I’ll fuck you straight, sweetheart!” During the resulting confrontation, he first spat in the face of one of the women and threw his lit cigarette at them, then he yanked the hair of another, pulling her towards him, and then began strangling another. A fight broke out, during which Patreese Johnson, 4 feet 11 inches tall and 95 pounds, produced a small knife from her bag to stop Buckle from choking her friend.
Some male onlookers ran over to physically deal with Buckle in order to help the women. Buckle, who ended up hospitalized for five days with stomach and liver lacerations, initially reported on at least two occasions that the men-not the women-had attacked him. What’s more, Patreese’s knife was never tested for DNA, the men who beat Buckle were never questioned by police, and the whole incident was documented on surveillance video. Yet the women ended up on trial for attempted murder. Dwayne Buckle testified against them.
It’s not easy to be sure of the facts here. For one thing, the media coverage was savage, calling the women things like a “wolf pack of lesbians.” The pro bono lawyers for the young lesbians would later have to buy the public record of the case since the judge, Edward J. McLaughlin (who ridiculed and expressed open contempt for the women in front of the jury all throughout the trial), would not release it. And as of late August 2007, the defense team still didn’t have a copy of the security camera video footage. Nevertheless, the upshot was that after the better part of one year spent sitting in jail, four of the seven women were convicted and sentenced in June 2007 to jail terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 11 years. The oldest of the convicted women was 24, and two of them are mothers of very small children.
Either it’s a criminal offense to try to stop someone from choking your friend or these women have been slandered in the media and locked up for being nonwhite, openly lesbian, unfeminine, unwealthy in a gentrifying neighborhood, and for refusing to submit to a bully. (Dwayne Buckle OR the judge-take your pick.)
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
If you are able to help with the women’s appeal (with legal research, financial contributions/fundraising efforts, doing research on the judge and district attorney on the case, stuff like that), you might want to contact FIERCE (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment), which is a community organization for transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirit, queer, and questioning youth of color. This group seems to have taken on some of the responsibility for helping the imprisoned women in this case. FIERCE is located at: 147 West 24th Street, 6th floor, New York, NY 10011 (646) 336-6789 www.fiercenyc.org
As of mid September 2007, Patreese Johnson, Terrain Dandridge, Venice Brown, and Renata Hill could be contacted as below:
Patreese Johnson # 07-G-0635 AND Renata Hill # 07-G-0636
are being held at
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility P.O. Box 1000 Bedford Hills, NY 10507
Terrain Dandridge # 07-G-0637 AND Venice Brown # 07-G-0640
are being held at
Albion Correctional Facility 3595 State School Road Albion, NY 14411-9399
The most up-to-date information I’ve been able to find about this situation is at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/justice4newark4/
There is an on-line petition in support of the four imprisoned lesbians at http://www.petitiononline.com/theseven/.
If you have a little extra, please consider kicking a few dollars toward the appeal effort (you could talk to FIERCE about that). You might want to write a quick letter or e-mail to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, or Edward J. McLaughlin (the judge in this case), or some sympathetic politician (heh), or the DJ at a politically progressive radio station, who might help spread the word on the air. Even if all you do is inform some people who didn’t already know about this situation, it might end up helping in some way.