West Village has always been thought of as synonymous with LGBT freedom. Not anymore. On August 18th 2006 a group of seven young African-American lesbian-identified women travelled to West Village from Newark for a night out. Outside an independent cinema, 29 year old Dwayne Buckle, an African-American DVD vendor, sexually propositioned one of the women. He was rebuffed and the women kepts on walking.
Buckle then shouted “I’ll f- you straight, sweetheart!” and (CCTV footage shows him) following the women, grabbing his genitals and (according to testimony) shouting anti-lesbian slurs and explicit and obscene remarks. Eventually the women stopped and confronted him which led to an argument. Buckle spat in the face of one of the women and threw his lit cigarette at them and a physical confrontation ensued in which Buckle pulled out patches of hair from one of the women and then pinned another to the floor, choking her. At this point Patreece Johnson drew a small steak knife she carried for protection, aimed for Buckle’s arm and attempted to help free her friend.
Two men ran over to help the women and CCTV shows them beating Buckle. At some point Buckle was stabbed in the abdomen.
On June 14th four of the women, Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese Johnson (20) and Renata Hill (24) were sentenced to between 3 and a half years to 11 years for wounding Buckle. Two of them are parents of small children.
So why is this of interest over here? The sentences received reflection the racism and homophobia of contemporary society. Buckle admitted instigating the homophobic and misogynistic attack, he twice said in hospital the person who stabbed him was one of the men and yet the women were demoized in the press and eventually given sentences far longer than usual in a case of wounding. There is no evidence that Johnson’s knife was the weapon which stabed Buckle, in fact that knife has never been forensically tested. The NYPD has not attempted to search for the two men who came to the women’s aid and subsequently appear to have carried out the attack.
The Press deemed this a “hate crime” against a straight man. The women were vilified for everything from the fact that they lived outside of New York, in the working-class majority Black city of Newark, N.J., to their gender expressions and body structures. The Judge, Justice Edward J. McLaughlin, stated throughout the trial that he had no sympathy for these women. The jury was all white. All witnesses for the district attorney were white men. Defense attorneys had to put enormous effort into simply convincing the jury that they were “average women” who had planned to just hang out together that night.
In his sentencing remarks, “Justice McLaughlin scoffed at the assertion made by … Johnson, that she carried a knife because she was just 4-foot-11 and 95 pounds, worked nights and lived in a dangerous neighborhood.” He quoted the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” (June 15)
West Village, synonymous with the Stonewall Riots, is now an area of urban regeneration and gentrification. The incident happened in the area closest to New York University and the whole of West Village is known as a tourist friendly area (much like Old Compton St in London or Canal St in Manchester). The judge apparently also used used his sentencing speech to comment on “how New York welcomes tourists.” (Reported in the New York Times June 17).
All of the seven women knew and went to school with Sakia Gunn, a 19-year-old butch lesbian who was stabbed to death in Newark, N.J., in May 2003. Paralleling the present case, Gunn was out with three of her friends when a man made sexual advances to one of the women. When she replied that she was a lesbian and not interested, he attacked them. Gunn fought back and was stabbed to death.
Fierce are campaigning on their behalf and have ways of contacting the women to send messages of support. With thanks to them also for the press release forming the basis of this article.