Thursday, October 15, 2009
NYU’s Kimmel Center
60 Washington Square South, room 914 at 8 p.m.
Doors will open at 7:30.
This event is free and open to the public, but please bring a valid, state issued ID to show at the door.
There will be screening of a ‘sneak peak’ of the film The Fire Next Time, followed by a panel discussion moderated by CBS and LOGO’s 365 Gay News anchor, Chagmion Antione, with grassroots community organizers from FIERCE, the Audre Lorde Project and the filmmakers. The Fire This Time is a documentary directed by my friend Blair Doroshwalther about the New Jersey 7 (also known as the NJ 4).
In August, 2006 seven young African-American lesbian women from Newark, New Jersey were enjoying a night out in the gay-friendly West Village neighborhood of New York City. As they walked down the street, they were sexually harrassed by a man named Duane Buckle. When they told him they were not interested, and that they were lesbians, Buckle verbally attacked them using homophobic slurs, and physically assaulted them. In a not uncommon travesty of justice, the New Jersey Seven, as they came to be called, were sent to prison for defending themselves. 3 of the women accepted plea bargains and on June 14th, 2007 Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Patreese Johnson, and Renata Hill received sentences ranging from 3 1/2 to 11 years in prison.The Fire This Time tells the story of the seven women’s trial and prison sentences, and the years-long fight by relatives and activists to get the women released. Along the way, the film reveals in devastating detail how the media, homophobia, and racism all work together in American culture to stigmatize and victimize gay people of color.
Please come out and show your support!
Toward the end of 2008, the First District Appellate Court in New York heard the appeals of the New Jersey Four, with the following results.
Terrain, age nineteen at the time of the incident (originally sentenced to three and a half years), saw the charges against her dismissed after she had already served almost two years. She was immediately released and remains the only one of the seven without a felony conviction.
Venice, age eighteen (originally sentenced to five years), was granted a retrial. She was bailed out in October 2008 and has recently accepted a plea agreement of attempted gang assault (a felony), calling for twenty-six months time served and five years post-release supervision.
Renata, age twenty-four (originally sentenced to eight years), was granted a retrial on her gang assault conviction. She was bailed out in late August 2008. In March she accepted a plea agreement that called for her to serve an additional year and a half in prison and five years post-release supervision. She will turn herself in on May 4th, 2009, to begin serving the remaining year. She is also currently fighting for custody of her seven-year-old son.
Patreese, age nineteen (originally sentenced to eleven years), had her sentence reduced to eight years “in the interest of justice.”
Lania (nineteen years old), Chanese (nineteen years old), and Khamysha (twenty-seven years old) all accepted plea bargains in 2006 and were sentenced to six months incarceration followed by five years probation.
I was immediately drawn to the case of the New Jersey Seven by the initial outrageous media coverage. The first thing that caught my attention was the likening of these young women to animals. Numerous media reports branded them as a gang and compared them to a wolf pack. It is my contention that neither the media nor prosecutors would ever condemn in those same terms either white women or straight women caught in similar circumstances.
An article written by two female reporters that appeared in the New York Times on August 19, 2006, particularly struck me. The headline referred to Dwayne Buckle, the alleged victim, as an “admirer” of the very same young women that he ultimately accused of assaulting him. Yet I doubt that there is any woman today who has not at some point in her life been sexually harassed or “cat-called” while walking down a street or standing in a public place. I think it needs to be stated that there is a massive difference between “admiration” and sexual harassment, between freedom of speech and threats of rape or sexual assault, between “no” and “yes.” The difference is respect. I believe that the women who wrote the Times article displayed racism, homophobia, gender bias, and classism because they could not identify with the possibility that the New Jersey Seven were victims of sexual harassment. I believe that articles such as theirs contribute to a dangerous environment for all women and for all gender non-conforming people.
Dangerous and intolerable environments are exactly why people seek out safe spaces. Such spaces offer an encouraging and reliable place where people who are otherwise marginalized or oppressed, people who daily experience social prejudice, can confidently expect to be safe and comfortable. They are havens that welcome and accept, places in which to share common struggles, experiences, and ideas, but, most important, places in which people can just be themselves. This is what had drawn the New Jersey Seven to West Village. For such individuals who are subject to higher incidences of violence and alienation, it is both a rare privilege and a relief simply to be in a place to feel comfortable, supported, and safe.
Currently, same-sex marriage is the LGBTQ issue that gets the most media attention. Unfortunately, it is primarily an adult concern. The immediate day-to-day need of many LGBTQ youth, particularly youth of color, for safe spaces and personal safety gets little coverage. I believe that the case of the New Jersey Seven (eventually, the New Jersey Four) represents a grave miscarriage of justice and reveals many of the ways that society punishes lesbian women of color for challenging the gender status quo.
– Blair Doroshwalther