Four more Black girls just went bad. Young, 19 to 25; from Newark or surrounding neighborhoods; “troubled” families; having babies while in their teens–you’ve heard it all before. The reason you’re reading about this bunch is that they’re lesbians–“killer lesbians,” “a wolf pack of lesbians,” say the media. They’re not martyrs or heroes; they did something stupid that got them sentenced to prison. They stood up for themselves.
“Man Is Stabbed in Attack After Admiring a Stranger,” wrote the comparatively well-mannered New York Times last August 19th.
The Manhattan district attorney says Patreese Johnson, one of the four, was the stabber. He charged her with attempted murder, and Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown, and Terrain Dandridge with felony assault and gang assault. The man assaulted was Dwayne Buckle, 29, who, seeing the “gang” on the corner of 6th Avenue and 4th Street in Manhattan’s West Village, singled out Johnson because she was “slightly pretty.” He claimed he said, “Hi, how are you doing?”
Johnson, Hill, Brown, Dandridge, and three other women–a “seething sapphic septet,” according to the New York Post–had just gotten off the train from Newark, looking for a little fun. Being young, they knew the odds of fun were better in the Village; being lesbians, they knew fun was not to be had in the streets of Newark, where, four years earlier, 15-year-old Sakia Gunn was knifed to death by men who thought she was cute–until she told them she was gay.
Although what happened between these women and Dwayne Buckle was caught on surveillance cameras, there isn’t one newspaper account that doesn’t, somehow, conflict with the others. Dwayne Buckle, a “filmmaker” or “sound mixer” or “dvd bootlegger”–depending on your news source–evidently said more than “Hi.” The women contend he pointed to Patreese Johnson’s crotch and said, “Let me get some of that.” When Johnson answered, “No thank you, I’m not interested,” he told Johnson that he could fuck her and her friends straight.
Buckle says the women called his sneakers “cheap,” then slapped and spit at him, while he put his hands over his face to ward off the blows. The women say he spit at them and threw a cigarette. Buckle later admitted he called Venice Brown, because of her size, an elephant, and told one of the lesbians in a “low haircut” she looked like a man. Depending on your life experience, you’ll probably believe one side over the other. In any case, a melee ensued in which two or three male bystanders jumped in, either, says one side, as “good Samaritans” to defend the women, or, says the other side, because the women “recruited” them in the beating.
Naturally, there are details the press didn’t cover. Susan Tipograph, an attorney representing Renata Hill, supplies the fact that, at some point, Buckle pulled off one woman’s headpiece and tore out a patch of another’s hair–which may be what he is seen swinging on the videotape, as he advances on the women.
According to Tipograph, Johnson, seeing that Buckle had Renata Hill in a chokehold, took a 99-cent steak knife from her purse and swung it at Buckle’s arm, to get him to release Hill. After things quieted down, the women, with no apparent intent of fleeing the scene, went to the McDonalds across the street, visited the bathroom, got something to eat. Twenty-five minutes later, they were arrested a few blocks away, unaware the man they’d fought was injured. Buckle had, in fact, sustained stomach and liver lacerations, and was to spend the next five days in St. Vincent’s Hospital, recuperating. Interestingly, news media barely noticed that Dwayne Buckle is, himself, Black–given his demonstrable heterosexuality, he has become, for purposes of the press, Everyman.
The trial did little to elucidate what happened. The videotape, played repeatedly, was, says Tipograph, highly inconclusive. At 95 pounds, 4 feet 11 inches, Patreese Johnson may not have had the strength or leverage to inflict much damage. Johnson still doesn’t know if she actually stabbed Buckle. One of the men who jumped into the fight may have done it, but, since the NYPD never tested Johnson’s knife for DNA evidence, we’ll never know. Long story short: the jury didn’t believe it was self-defense, and convicted the women.
Now it’s June 14, 2007. Johnson, Hill, Brown, and Dandridge are in State Supreme Court, being sentenced. The Times reporter notes how Judge Edward J. McLaughlin shows “little sympathy” as he lectures the defendants, saying “they should have heeded the nursery rhyme about ‘sticks and stones’ and walked away.” The judge “scoffs” at Johnson’s explanation that she carried a knife because she worked nights at Wal-Mart and needed protection getting home; he’s saying that Johnson’s “‘meek, weak’ demeanor” on the stand has been “an act.”
He sentences Johnson to 11 years in state prison; Renata Hill to 8 years; Terrain Dandridge to 3_; Venice Brown to 5–and the courtroom erupts. The defendants scream, “I’m a good girl!” and “Mommy, Mommy, I didn’t do this!” Brown and Hill, mothers themselves, will leave behind an infant and a 5-year-old.
“He lectured them as if he knew what their lives were about–he didn’t have a clue,” says Susan Tipograph. “Patreese Johnson is a 19-year-old kid. I’m sorry she’s not as forceful and together as a white, middle-aged man who’s been a judge for 20 years. He accused them of lying, of not being remorseful, of being predators. What happened that night was stupid, frankly. They should have walked away. But the sentences McLaughlin gave were off the charts.”
“PACK HOWLS–JUDGE WON’T BEND,” blares the New York Daily News. Some people say Justice was served. After all, you want to watch out for Black dykes with knives. But people who believe in this kind of justice talk like they know what prison is. Prison is about anything but justice, especially for the young, the queer, the African American.
Dwayne Buckle–or anyone that night–should not have been physically hurt. But, embedded within the charges and sentences these women received is an imploded violence that will damage lives deeply, years after the body’s wounds are healed.
[None of these women can afford a lawyer; they urgently need pro bono counsel for an appeal. If you can help, contact Susan Tipograph at 212.431.5360. If you want to provide non-legal support or write letters to the women, go to www.fiercenyc.org.]
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© SUSIE DAY, 2007