“Living as a woman in a sexist world is to live in constant danger and fear via venomous words and vicious glances. Every woman knows this perpetual fear as deeply as she knows the taste of her own saliva. Men only taste this fear when they are imprisoned. Only then do they experience the curse of being sexual prey for 24 hours of every day. Only then do they know how every lewd glare can render them naked. Only then do they know the sexual harassment that women endure daily. The world is a prison for women. We are all sentenced to consecutive lives of misogyny without parole.” — Alicia Banks in her eulogy to Sakia Gunn
I’ve spent some time reading everything I could find about the”Lesbian Seven,” seven young lesbian women from Newark, New Jersey, all of whom are either serving or will serve time in jail — up to 11 years — for their parts in an altercation which began when a man sexually harrassed them, approaching them in a menacing and intimidating way, taunting them with hate speech.
Terrain Dandridge, 20, sentenced to 3-1/2 years, the shortest sentence, because the judge thought she “took responsibility for the attack” in a way the other women did not. She may not have even touched Dwayne Buckle.
The women were returning home from a night on the town in the West Village in New York City, historically reasonably safe space for lesbians, including lesbians of color, less safe these days due to ongoing gentrification projects designed to draw tourist dollars and to attract affluent new residents. Gentrification always harms poor, working class persons, minorities and marginalized people, because police, landlords, business owners, make it their business to go after those they view as undesirable, in fact, those who have heretofore made the area their home.
On the night in question at around 2 a.m., Dwayne Buckle, 29 (above), variously described as an “electrician,” a “sound engineer,” and an “independent filmmaker” (isn’t everybody these days), was sitting on a fire hydrant outside the Independent Film Cinema, supposedly hawking DVDs. According to the women’s testimony — which I completely, thoroughly, unequivocally and absolutely believe; it rings, it resonates, and I’ve seen and heard this kind of exchange and been victimized by this kind of man many, many times — Buckle approached one of the women, Patreese Johnson, who stands 4’11” tall and weighs 95 pounds, gestured toward her crotch and said, “Let me get some of that.” When she and the other women said they weren’t interested, they were lesbians, Buckle shouted, “I’ll fuck you straight, sweetheart.” At that point Johnson’s girlfriend shot back an insult, something about Buckle’s jeans and tennis shoes being cheap, Buckle then called one of the women an “elephant,” and yelled at another that she “looked like a man.” Then there was a fight. Surveillance cameras show Buckle choking one woman and holding clumps of hair ripped from some of the women’s heads. The women said Buckle spit on them and hucked a lit cigarette at them; Buckle says one of the women spit at him.
During the course of the altercation, the woman Buckle had directly sexually harrassed retrieved a 99-cent steak knife out of her bag and went after Buckle with it in an attempt to defend the woman whom Buckle was choking. At one point she thought she may have stabbed him, but she wasn’t sure. The video does not show that the woman ever actually stabbed him; it does show three men joining the melee and shows one of them, in a pink shirt, apparently stabbing Buckle. Police never apprehended the stabber in the pink shirt.
The men ran off, Buckle was on the ground, no blood was in evidence, Buckle was clearly alive, and the women went on to McDonald’s to have a bite to eat, where they were arrested by police. Buckle, as it turned out, had suffered a lacerated liver and was taken to the hospital.
Three of the women pled guilty to attempted assault and served six months in jail. Four of the women went to trial. None of the women had criminal records, and two are parents.
The judge was a real card, cracking jokes with Buckle at trial about how expensive Buckle’s jeans and tennis shoes actually had been, yukking it up with the jury when a police officer, called to testify, donned rubber gloves while handling Patreese Johnson’s knife. No forensic tests were ever done on the knife and there was no evidence hers was the knife that cut Buckle, nor was there blood on it. In the clear absence of blood stains, the judge mocked the police officer for donning the gloves and cracked a joke about the officer seeing “germs” there.
Renata Hill, sentenced to 8 years. Patreese Johnson, 19, who wielded a steak knife against Buckle but did not stab him (video surveillance evidences Buckle was stabbed by a man who joined the fray later), was sentenced to 11 years. She, like the other women, had no criminal record.
In the end, the judge threw the book at the four women. He said Patreese Johnson should have just “ignored” Buckle, chiding her with the children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” How easy a thing that was for this powerful, affluent white man, a 1972 graduate of Georgetown University School of Law, to say. He blew off the fact that Johnson was tiny and vulnerable and trashed her for having brought a knife along and for wielding it against Buckle (which was caught on the surveillance video). He also accused the soft-spoken and timid Johnson of “putting on an act” at trial.
Sakia Gunn, 15, a lesbian and known to the Lesbian 7, was stabbed to death in 2003 when she rejected a man who propositioned her.
Evidently the judge didn’t know what had happened to the women’s acquaintance — because all of them had known her — Sakia Gunn, above, who, like them, had been out on the town one night with three friends, who, like them, was a lesbian. She too had been accosted by a man making similar sexual overtures and attacking her with lesbophobic hate speech late at night. When Gunn and her friends resisted him, though, Gunn was stabbed to death. She was 15 years old.
Sticks and stones. I guess to McLaughlin, it would be preferable for the women to have been polite, courteous, deferential, unarmed, and — like Sakia Gunn — dead.
“They hated men.” — Buckle
In the end McLaughlin sentenced the four women — who again had no criminal records — to from 3-1/2 to 11 years in prison. Buckle is fine these days, all healed, claiming he was targeted for violence by “manhating” lesbians because he is a “heterosexual man.”
“They hated men,” Wayne Buckle said from the intensive care unit of Saint Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan. “I think it would have been any man and not just me.”
Still shaken by Friday’s terrifying assault, Buckle, an independent filmmaker from Queens, said he felt he was the victim of a bias attack.
“It was a hate crime against a straight man by a ton of lesbians,” he said. “This is what the world is coming to.”
Several witnesses and police sources said Buckle sparked the attack by spitting on a 19-year-old lesbian after she rejected his advances outside the IFC movie theater on Sixth Ave. near W. Third St. He also allegedly cursed the woman, Patrice (sic) Johnson, using gay slurs.
…[Buckle] denied that he had provoked the attack and insisted he was not homophobic.
“All I said was, ‘Excuse me, how are you doing?’ like a gentleman,” he said. “I thought it was the natural thing to do.”
Misogynist Mainstream Media
Mysogynist media has had a field day with the case, with headlines and reports describing the seven women at various times as a “gang“, a “Lesbian wolf pack,” “Killer Lesbians,” “ornery lesbians,” and the incident as a “lesbian beatdown.” Reporters gleefully mocked the grief and shock of the defendants and their families as they received harsh prison sentences, in one instance describing them as a “howling pack.”
Reports sympathetic to the woman were also at times disturbingly inaccurate, describing the jury as entirely comprised of “white women,” when in fact some jury members were not white, the jury included two men, and it would have included three, except that the third got in trouble with the judge when he randomly asked in open court if he and his family would be in any danger from the “lesbian marauders.”
I Believe Them
I believe the women. Not for one moment do I believe this man. Which of us, as women, has not had the experience of being accosted late at night, crudely propositioned, harrassed with sexist hate speech? How many of us have been knifed, beaten, shot, raped and murdered at the hands of a man in an incident which began just like this one? How is it a crime for us to be ready to defend ourselves? How is it criminal for us, as women, to be ready for the absolute worst, to expect the worst, given what we know men to be capable of, given the slaughter of women which goes on all around us every day?
And what other persons could be described repeatedly in mainstream media, in headlines, as animals, as a “wolf pack,” “a howling pack,” “killers” without any consequence to the reporters or the publication? This is sick, disgusting, racist, sexist, lesbophobic, classist, it is hatred of vulnerable young women so deep and grievous that for any supposedly civil society to tolerate it is unconscionable. And yet ours does.
The women’s attorneys have appealed the sentences. FIERCE New York City is supporting the women and outlines how others can help in this flyer and has scheduled a meeting to discuss how to help the women, as follows:
Tuesday, July 10th at 6:30pm
147 West 24th Street, 6th Floor
(between 6th & 7th Ave. – 1/F/C/E to 23rd Street)
I am lighting candles for Patreece Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown, and Terrain Dandridge whose real crime was being black, lesbian, and daring to resist the intimidation and sexual harrassment of a lesbophobic male. I hope and pray they are released very soon.
New York Times Articles (first four links, subscription required, free for 14 days with credit card):