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  The Fire Inside
 Issue 36 - Fall 2007/Winter 2008

< Dedication
< Responses to Jena
< Legal Corner - Fighting for your rights: Parole
< Luchando por sus derechos
< Arrival
< Pledging My Love
< Suicide City
< More Suicides – Whose Responsibility?
< Oct. 20 Mobilization to Chowchilla’s Prisons
< Transforming Justice Conference
< The Visiting Room
< Free the New Jersey 4
< Parole Beat
< Court Threatens to Reverse Release
< Inadequate telephone service
< Inadecuado servicio telefónico
< What about the Jena 6?
< In memory of Virginia Garcia aka "Boy"

Free the New Jersey 4

On June 14, 2007, four young African-American lesbians were convicted of 2nd degree gang assault and sentenced to prison time ranging from 3 to 11 years. These four friends had dared to defend themselves against a sexist and anti-gay assault during a night out in New York City’s West Village, a neighborhood historically known as a hangout for queer and transgender youth of color.

According to the women’s testimonies, the incident began when Dwayne Buckle, an African-American man selling DVDs, sexually propositioned one of them as they walked by. She dismissed his advances, telling him that she wasn’t interested in men. He followed them as they kept walking, saying anti-gay and sexually aggressive remarks like “I’ll fuck you straight.” The women stopped and confronted him, and a verbal confrontation turned physical when Buckle flicked a lit cigarette and spat at them. During the altercation, Patreese Johnson pulled out a small steak knife from her purse in attempt to stop Buckle from choking her friend. Two other men came to help the woman being choked, one of which may have had a knife as well. The women walked away with Buckle on the ground, but clearly alive. The other men ran off. The women were arrested later at a nearby McDonalds. Buckle spent the next five days in the hospital with a lacerated liver. The other men involved in the fight were never sought by the police. Three of the seven women present took pleas of attempted assault and received six months jail time. The other four went to trial. None of them had previous records.

The women were demonized by the mainstream media who invoked racist, sexist and homophobic imagery, turning the group of friends into a “lesbian wolf pack” and “a seething Sapphic septet” and an incident of self-defense into a “gay-on-straight gang assault”. Buckle’s actions, however, were portrayed as harmless and innocent. He described the incident to the press as a “hate crime against a straight man by a ton of lesbians” that happened after he just said hello to the “slightly pretty” one in the group.

During the trial, Judge Edward J. McLaughlin clearly sided with Buckle, at one point opening disbelieving Johnson’s explanation that she carried a knife for self-protection. He told them that “they should have heeded the nursery rhyme about ‘sticks and stones’ and walked away”. Maybe he didn’t hear about what happened to Sakia Gunn, a former schoolmate of the women, who was stabbed to death after she told a man who propositioned her that she was gay. Maybe Judge McLaughlin, as someone who experiences the world as a white man, had absolutely no understanding of the verbal, physical and sexual violence that women, queer and transgender people experience everyday. Maybe he just could not grasp that a group of African-American lesbians are not a “man-hating gang” but rather are looking for a place to feel safe- a place that becomes harder and harder to find as the gentrification* of cities translates into increased policing and incarceration of communities of color, especially queer, transgender and homeless youth.

The jury seemed to agree with the judge, finding the defendants guilty even though no forensic testing was ever done on Johnson’s knife to prove that it was the knife that stabbed Buckle. The judge then sentenced Patreese Johnson, age 19, described as the “pint-sized ring leader of a gang of seven rampaging lesbians” by New York Post, to 11 years, Renata Hill, age 25, to 8 years, Venice Brown, age 19, to 5 years, and Terrain Dandridge, age 20, to 3 , the shortest sentence because, according to judge McLaughlin, she was the only one who took responsibility for the incident. The guilty verdict and long sentences send a resounding message about who the legal system thinks has a right to self-defense and who is “worthy” of protection.

CCWP sends out our love and support to the New Jersey 4 and their friends and family. We pledge our solidarity to them and all queer, transgender and homeless youth who are fighting for the right to safety and community in the face of increased criminalization and policing.

“We must always stand together, fearless and unified against any intruder who tries to take our lives, our families or our freedom.”

—Merle Africa, MOVE


*Gentrification is city development by wealthy real estate and business interests that intentionally targets working class communities of color to be redeveloped for mostly white, wealthy people. Working class residents are pushed out because of increased policing, eviction, real estate values and taxes, and much of the public spaces (like neighborhood parks and rec centers) are privatized.

* * *

Thanks to FIERCE, Imani Henry, Suzie Day and Womanspace for informative articles on this case, which served as source material for this story.

The New Jersey 4 needs your support!

Contact FIERCE at or at:

147 West 24th Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10011
(646) 336-6789

Send your letters of love and solidarity:

Patreese Johnson #07-G-0635
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
PO Box 1000
Bedford Hills, NY 10507

Renata Hill #07-G-0636
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
PO Box 1000
Bedford Hills, NY 10507

Terrain Dandridge #07-G-0637
Albion Correctional Facility
3595 State School Road
Albion, NY 14411

Venice Brown # 07-G-0640
Albion Correctional Facility
3595 State School Road
Albion, NY 14411

Last updated January 15, 2008 01:20 PM

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