The New Jersey Seven: A Case of Intersectional Injustice

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ON AUGUST 18, 2006, SEVEN young African American lesbians
traveled to Greenwich Village in New York City from
their homes in Newark for a regular night out. When walking
down the street, a male bystander sexually propositioned
one of the women. After refusing to take no for an
answer, he physically assaulted them. The women tried to
defend themselves, and a fight broke out.
The women were charged with Gang Assault in the 2nd
degree, a Class C Felony with a mandatory minimum of
3.5 years. Patreese Johnson was additionally charged with
1st Degree Assault. Chenese Loyal, Lania Daniels, and
Khamysha Coates accepted plea offers. On June 14th,
2007 Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese
Johnson (20), and Renata Hill (24) received sentences
ranging from 3.5 to 11 years in prison.
The prosecution of the New Jersey Seven for defending
themselves against a homophobic attack illustrates the
state’s disregard of street harassment and the ridiculous
expectation that women and trans folks should not defend
themselves. Dwayne Buckle, the bystander who attacked
the women, sexually propositioned Patreese and followed
them down the street, insulting and threatening them: “I’ll
f**k you straight, sweetheart!”
Buckle’s violent harassment of the women should not be
seen as an isolated incident not requiring a response. Only
one year earlier in 2005, Sakia Gunn, a fifteen year old black
lesbian from Newark was stabbed to death on a downtown
Newark street corner after verbally rejecting the advances of
two men. For the seven women trying to return to Newark
after a long night, Buckle’s attack terrifyingly echoed the circumstances
of Gunn’s murder. If they had not defended
themselves, the consequences could have been deadly.
The district attorney office’s decision to charge the
women with Gang Assault in the 2nd degree, a Class C
Felony in New York State, further perpetuates the violence
against women of color initiated by Buckle. Charges such
as “Gang Assault” with mandatory minimum jail sentences
function as a form of legal lynching. Historically lynching
has been used to repress communities and normalize violence
against women of color.
Defining a gang as two or more people present during an
altercation allows judges and state’s attorneys to selectively
inscribe deviancy onto certain bodies (see New York State
Law 120.06). Given the statistically verified practice of racial
profiling and the historical practice of defining women of
color as non-normative, it is not surprising that women of
color continue to be the fastest growing prison population.
The case of the New Jersey Seven demonstrates that pathologizing
women of color occurs both on the street and in the
courtroom. Not only do Buckle’s remarks exemplify the daily
violence women of color face, but the trial proceedings also
mark the state’s role in normalizing this violence. According to
the New York Times, “Justice Edward J. McLaughlin of State
Supreme Court in Manhattan, showed little sympathy for the
women’s contention that taunts from Dwayne Buckle had left
them no choice but to defend themselves” (New York Times,
6/15/07). After dismissing the women’s lawyer’s request to
consider the influence of Sakia Gunn’s murder on the case,
Justice McLaughlin quoted the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and
stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”
(New York Times, 6/15/07). Considering Justice McLaughlin’s
comments and harsh sentencing, especially in the context of
Sakia Gunn’s murder, the state’s grim options for women of
color are revealed: confinement or death.
Following the 2006 trial, Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge
(20), Patreese Johnson (20), and Renata Hill (24)
entered Bedford Hills Correctional Institute and Albion
Prison with sentences ranging from 3.5 to 11 years in
prison. The three women who accepted plea offers began
to negotiate life with even more severe limitations on
access to housing and jobs. The families of Venice, Terrain,
Patreese and Renata began to work with local New York
activists to appeal the ruling and support the women. In
the absence of support from national gay and lesbian organizations,
FIERCE (, an organization
advocating for queer youth of color in New York City,
became the primary group raising money and awareness in
support of the imprisoned women.
While the appeals process has proven to be slow, the
collaboration of family members, supporters and the probono
legal teams has paid off. On June 13, 2008 the New
York Appeals Court overturned Terrain Dandridge’s case,
dropped all the charges and cleared her record. The court
also granted Renata Hill a new trial. On June 23rd Terrain
Dandrige was reunited with her family and the following
day traveled with her mother, Kimma Walker, to speak at
the San Francisco Dyke March and the New Jersey Four
Solidarity Evening with Angela Davis.
Although Terrain’s long awaited release from Albion
Correctional Facility is a victory, it is important to remember
that Terrain still unjustly spent 673 days (2 years) of
her young life in prison because of wrongful prosecution
and conviction. The three women, who accepted appeals,
Chenese Loyal, Lania Daniels, and Khamysha Coates, still
have felony charges that prevent them from getting jobs,
registering for housing and other unjust discrimination.
Renata Hill still awaits a new trial. Venice, sentenced to 5
years and Patreese, sentenced to 11 years, remain incarcerated,
awaiting appeals to be heard this fall. The three
women will continue to navigate the legal system until the
day comes when their stories will finally be heard.
Three women still remain in prison and three women continue
to experience the effects of an unjust felony charge. The
Midwest NJ7 Solidarity Collective encourages you to support
these women. Contact or
and visit for information
on how you can get involved.

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