New Jersey 4 Update: Another Retrial, One Reduced Sentence

freethenj4The highest court in  New York State (the Court of Appeals) decided to give New Jersey 4 Defendent Venice Brown a new trial, and reduced the sentence of Patreese Johnson from 13 to 8 years.

For Brown, the court decided “The evidence of defendant Brown’s participation in the crime is substantially similar to the evidence received at the same trial against codefendant Renata Hill. Accordingly, for the reasons stated in our prior decision (People v Hill, 52 AD3d 380 [2008]), we conclude that the verdict as to Brown was based on legally sufficient evidence and was not against the weight of the evidence, but that Brown is entitled to a new trial on the gang assault charge because of the charging errors discussed in Hill.” Essentially the circumstances surrounding Renata Hill’s getting a new trial a few months back the court felt were applicable to Hill’s case.

The judge felt that Johnson–as the person accused of stabbing that dude– did not present a solid legal argument for a new trial:

“Defendant Johnson, who personally stabbed the victim, challenges the sufficiency of the evidence establishing the element of serious physical injury. That claim is unpreserved and we decline to review it in the interest of justice. As an alternative holding, we also reject it on the merits. Even without the aid of expert testimony, the jury could have readily inferred from the victim’s testimony and medical records that his stab wounds to his liver and stomach were life-threatening (see e.g. People v Jones, 38 AD3d 352 [2007], lv denied 9 NY3d 846 [2007]). Johnson’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim relating to this issue is likewise without merit.

We find Johnson’s sentence excessive to the extent indicated.”

WHO ARE THE NEW JERSEY 4???

In the summer of 2006, seven young Black lesbians from New Jersey—Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Chenese Loyal, Lania Daniels, and Khamysha Coates—were hanging out on the pier in New York City’s West Village when Dwayne Buckle, a man selling DVDs on the street, sexually propositioned Patreese. Refusing to take no for an answer, he followed them down the street, insulting and threatening them: “I’ll **** you straight, sweetheart!”

It is important to understand that all seven women knew of another young woman named Sakia Gunn, who had been stabbed to death under very similar circumstances—by a pair of highly aggressive, verbally abusive male strangers. At least some of the seven had known Sakia personally.

During the resulting confrontation, Buckle first spat in Renata’s face and threw his lit cigarette at her, then he yanked another’s hair, pulling her towards him, and then began strangling Renata. A fight broke out, during which Patreese Johnson, 4 feet 11 inches tall and 95 pounds, produced a small knife from her bag to stop Buckle from choking her friend—a knife she carried to protect herself when she came home alone from her late-night job.

Two male onlookers, one of whom had a knife, ran over to physically deal with Buckle in order to help the women. Buckle, who ended up hospitalized for five days with stomach and liver lacerations, initially reported on at least two occasions that the men—not the women—had attacked him. What’s more, Patreese’s knife was never tested for DNA, the men who beat Buckle were never questioned by police, and the whole incident was captured on surveillance video. Yet the women ended up on trial for attempted murder. Dwayne Buckle testified against them.

The media coverage was savage, calling the women such things as a “wolf pack of lesbians.” The pro bono lawyers for the young lesbians would later have to buy the public record of the case since the judge, Edward J. McLaughlin (who openly taunted and expressed contempt for the women in front of the jury all throughout the trial), would not release it. As of late August 2007, the defense team still didn’t have a copy of the security camera video footage. And after the better part of one year spent sitting in jail, four of the seven women were sentenced in June 2007—reportedly by an all-white jury of mostly women—to jail terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 11 years. The oldest of the women was 24, and two of them are mothers of small children.

To find out how to donate money to their legal defense or send  money or books to Johnson, visit Free The New Jersey 4!

This Week in Black Masculinity: Barack Obama, R. Kelly, and Usher

Black men were in the news this week–and only one of them involved a criminal trial. But all of them in some way or another deal with problematic around Black men/masculinties and black male sexuality.

On Sunday, Barack Obama spent Father’s Day in Chicago delivering a speech about the need for Black men to be more engaged in the lives of their children. He said:

It’s up to us – as fathers and parents – to instill this ethic of excellence in our children. It’s up to us to say to our daughters, don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for those goals. It’s up to us to tell our sons, those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we live glory to achievement, self respect, and hard work. It’s up to us to set these high expectations. And that means meeting those expectations ourselves. That means setting examples of excellence in our own lives.

The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy – the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft – that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness.

But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so it’s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. That’s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers.

Though his speech generally falls within the context of more “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ there are a couple things about this speech that I like.

  1. He doesn’t once talk about “unwed” mothers, or children “born out of wedlock.” I hate that logic. Its as if being born outside of a marriage or for women to be unmarried with children is the downfall of civilization. I like that he instead talks about the need for parents to be involved in their children’s lives, and does not confine that to the context of marriage and marriage alone.
  2. He acknowledges the hard work that single mothers are doing without blaming or pathologizing their condition. He’s instead saying, “they didn’t bring them into this world alone, step the fuck up.” Some people won’t like that. But I think that we have to address the ability of many men to abdicate any responsilbility for their children as a form of patriarchy, and not solely about racism deployed against black men that won’t allow them to be “providers” (i.e. proper patriarchs).

Read his policy vision regarding fatherhood and families further down in the above link.

Now that you’ve been potentially inspired, let’s talk about some bad news in Black masculinity: R. Kelly was acquitted on all counts on the statutory rape charges from the infamous video that dated back several years. But there’s some pushback: ATL-based underground funkstar Joi Gilliam posted on her Facebook page this message: “Joi Gilliam is disgusted with the r. kelly “not guilty” verdict and ready for proper vigilante justice to happen when the courts fail us.” LOL!!!

Also, a new statement/petition is circulating the internet called Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women, written in light of the R. Kelly verdict:

“We have proudly seen the community take to the streets in defense of Black men who have been the victims of police violence or racist attacks, but that righteous outrage only highlights the silence surrounding this verdict.

We believe that our judgment has been clouded by celebrity-worship; we believe that we are a community in crisis and that our addiction to sexism has reached such an extreme that many of us cannot even recognize child molestation when we see it.


We recognize the absolute necessity for Black men to speak in a single, unified voice and state something that should be absolutely obvious: that the women of our community are full human beings, that we cannot and will not tolerate the poisonous hatred of women that has already damaged our families, relationships and culture.

We believe that our daughters are precious and they deserve our protection. We believe that Black men must take responsibility for our contributions to this terrible state of affairs and make an effort to change our lives and our communities.”

Lastly, Usher told Vibe Magazine said that lesbianism is running rampant in the Black communities because of a lack of available Black men. “It can never be bad to have a foundation as a man—a black man—in a time when women are dying for men,” he says. “Women have started to become lovers of each other as a result of not having enough men. Are you not studying the stories? Wake up! Black love is a good thing.”

That is so much of a hot mess I don’t even know where to begin. Just sing for us Usher. And take off your shirt. This man who has become lovers of other men is so disappointed with the foolish things that men say I almost have no use for you to talk.