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Following recent victories

National campaign to raise bail for the Jersey 4

Published Oct 2, 2008 9:06 PM

A fundraiser for the New Jersey 4, hosted by the Brecht Forum and co-sponsored by the Audre Lorde Project, FIERCE and All7.org, was held here on Sept. 16.

The Jersey 4 are young African-American lesbians from Newark, N.J., who were convicted of “gang assault” charges in June 2007 after defending themselves against a man who attacked them and three of their friends in August 2006.

The seven friends were walking in the West Village of New York City when they were sexually propositioned by a vendor, Wayne Buckle. When they said they were not interested because they were lesbians, Buckle hurled anti-gay epithets, threatened them with sexual assault, then proceeded to physically attack the women. Two men rushed to help the women, and over the course of the altercation Buckle was stabbed in the abdomen.

Buckle spent only days in the hospital, and although no physical evidence connected the seven to his stab wounds, four of them were given sentences ranging from 3.5 to 11 years. Patreese Johnson, who was deemed the “ringleader” by the judge, was also charged with first- and second-degree assault.

Through the efforts and activism of their legal team, families and a national movement, the conviction of 21-year-old Terrain Dandridge was vacated on June 19, with the indictment against her completely reversed. The conviction of 26-year-old Renata Hill, who was originally sentenced to eight years, was also vacated. Although currently free on bail, Hill still faces the possibility of a new trial, as the indictment against her was not reversed.

The other two, Venice Brown and Johnson, are still in prison awaiting appeals scheduled for November. Brown received a five-year sentence, and Johnson was sentenced to 11 years. Recently a national campaign has begun to raise $5,000 in bail money for Brown as well as money to cover legal fees for all four.

The Sept. 16 fundraiser was dedicated to the memory of Mollie Brown, mother of Renata Hill, who passed away while her daughter was in prison. Tragically, Hill was not allowed to attend her mother’s funeral.

The fundraiser opened with rousing music from the Voices of Liberation choir, which is from the Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church in Newark. The multinational list of speakers and performers included renowned poet and activist Amina Baraka; performers Nedra Johnson and Gabriella Callender from the Mahina Movement; Nigerian poet yvonne fly onakeme etaghene; and Zaum, an Armenian activist and artist who coordinated the event.

Two of the Jersey 4, Hill and Dandridge, were present. Dandridge and her mother, Kimma Walker, read an emotional account of the night the women were attacked and arrested.

The money raised at the event will be used to support the young women in a variety of ways. Walker told Workers World: “With the exception of my daughter, these beautiful young lesbians must now endure living life with a felony record. Life’s basic necessities, such as job placement, housing and student loans, are going to be very hard, if not impossible, to obtain. Prison visits, packages of food and toiletries, and collect phone calls have now become a way of life for family and friends.”

The West Village has traditionally been one the historic homes and safe havens for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially young LGBT people. Yet millions of dollars are at stake in the ongoing gentrification of the West Village, and this lies at the root of the anti-youth, racist and anti-LGBT oppression that surrounds the Jersey 4 case.

New York University, the biggest landlord and employer in the West Village, has been one of the forces that has imposed curfews and promoted increased police brutality in the area. In 2001 the New York Times reported, “Not counting its medical and dental schools, N.Y.U. today owns about 60 buildings with 9.3 million square feet, about 50 percent more than the 6.3 million square feet it owned in 1970.” (Apr. 19, 2001)

To get updates, send donations or find other ways to support the New Jersey 4, visit www.all7.org or www.fiercenyc.org.