On August 18, 2006, seven Black/New Afrikan lesbians from Newark, New Jersey went to Manhattan’s West Village for a night out on the town. As is all too typical, while they were out minding their business a male bystander began to harass and finally assaulted them, making sexist and homophobic comments as well as lewd advances and telling one of the women that he would “Fuck her straight.”
The women defended themselves, and a fight ensued. It ended with all the young women being arrested.
After a hellish year-long trip through the legal system, three of the women took plea bargains and the other four (Terrain Dandridge, age 20; Venice Brown, age 19; and Renata Hill, age 25, and Patreese Johnson, age 19) were convicted and sentenced to years in prison.
The harsh sentences for a “crime” of self-defense is nothing new, and nothing unique, the entire american patriarchal penal State being oriented around incarcerating Black/New Afrikan people. That they were also women and queer and stepping out of line, defending themselves and not losing, was just more insult added to the injury observed by white-male-eyes. While prisons in america are primarily about warehousing social dynamite while disrupting communities en route to genocide, in this case they also displayed their role as an essential pedagogical tool, i.e. a way to teach people a lesson, making an example of some “deviants”.
We are now seven years later. It is 2013, and Patreese Johnson – the last of the New Jersey 4, as they became known – is finally set to be released. As explained by some of the people who have supported the 4 over the years:
A group of us based in the Bay Area came together in 2007 and formed the New Jersey 4 Solidarity Committee to try to figure out how we could act in solidarity with the four women who remained in prison. We decided we would organize directly with the NJ4 and their families, through an abolitionist analysis that politicized queer self-defense. We also chose to work outside non-profit structures which some of the NJ4 felt had failed them.
You all might not have heard from us since 2009, when Renata Hill re-entered the New York State Department of Corrections or since Terrain Dandridge won her appeal and was released in 2008. Or perhaps you haven’t ever heard of us or of the case because the racist and misogynist LGBT mainstream did nothing to support the NJ4.
However, within the last 4 years Renata has been reunited with her son and has pursued work in the computer industry, Terrain and Venice are also both out of prison. Tragically, Patreese has remained locked in prison for almost 7 years. Yet despite being bumped around during Hurricane Sandy and despite having spent her 20s behind bars, according to most accounts, she remains optimistic and looks forward to coming home.
While in any kind of just world she would be receiving reparations and compensation for the crime that was committed against her, we don’t live in that kind of world. So instead, people are raising funds to help support her getting set up as she is finally set to be released.
Please go to http://www.gofundme.com/2xjwpg to make a donation, and let Patreese know that she has not been forgotten by us all.